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THE BOBO DREAD
|The place of all females is below that of all males, regardless of age. As a "King-man" or "God-man," the male child is held up as being superior to all females even though the latter are often referred to as "empresses." The subordination of women to men is characteristic of the Dreadlocks in general, only the Bobo carry it to a greater length. In the commune all females must cover their legs and arms. Women are confined to looking after the children and performing other household chores such as cleaning and washing. They, too, are all relatively young people. The most I counted on any one occasion was Twelve, but the total figure was something like Twenty, the rest being "sick" (in menstrual recluse). None of those I saw appeared to exceed thirty five years of age.|
Women give deference to men. A young Bobo was engaged in discussion in the round guest
hut when his little daughter came running up and snuggled into his lap. Without interrupting his
reasoning, he caressed her. The child was really running away from her mother who, following
close on her heels, asked the prophet to hand her over to be put to bed. He ignored her totally and
continued talking. Sensing that she had stepped outside her bounds, she physically retreated two
steps without any show of resentment or annoyance and waited for five minutes before the child
A woman may serve guests, but may never serve Bobo males. Traditionally, among the peasantry it is the woman who cooks and serves, but among the Bobo it is the men who cook and the men who serve. The women may eat sitting on a bench outside the kitchen or take the meal back to their private quarters. Of course if they so wish they may cook for themselves after their days of purification from the menstrual flow are over.
Prophet Stanley and his wife, Gladys, live a short distance below the compound, an arrangement that allow his entrepreneurial activity as a shoemaker and manufacturer of wood- roots beverages to avoid being stifled by the demands of communal life. He is thirty-seven and has been a Bobo for seven years. During this period he has not slept in the same room as his wife. Whenever he wants, he has sexual intercourse with her and then leaves. Women, he says, distract from meditation.
If a Bobo is faithful to his marital union, his sexual activities are limited to Twelve days out of a twenty-eight day cycle. The other sixteen days, his wife must remain hidden from the view of all men. This is where the "sick house" comes in. Sometimes her period of defilement lasts longer than sixteen days. During this time, other women acting as nurses administer to her needs and take care of her domestic chores. I reckon that continence in such a situation is not always easy for the Bobo male. From time to time, around the winding bends in the road leading up to Mount Temon, one comes upon a Bobo engaging a local woman in what would appear to be less than divine reasoning.
Bobo women are allowed to give birth in the hospital. There is no taboo about that, but they remain unclean for three months after, during which time only nurses attend to them. In Stanley's case, living independently outside the commune, he is required to give up the house and live elsewhere for the three months after his wife returns from the maternity hospital.
I was unable to find out how Bobo women perceived their subordinate status. Once my assistant reported the case of a young girl who sought refuge in the commune after being turned out of her parental home in Trench Town. The Bobo she sought out duly made her his empress. Upon hearing this story, two of our informants from Hannah Town related what they said was a commonly held opinion, that women preferred Bobo as lovers, I imagine over Dreadlocks. On my way up to the commune one fasting day, I was asked by a young woman named Violet to tell Priest Samuel she was waiting by Prophet Stanley's yard to see him. She mentioned having been beaten by another man for living with a Bobo, who I presumed was Samuel. She could not approach the commune in her condition-legs uncovered and clothes soiled. Violet, it should be noted, was obviously conversant with commune regulations governing the conduct of women. That she was no longer cohabiting with Samuel, though still in need of him, or that she failed to observe the conduct on dress, could be interpreted to mean that she did not find camp life entirely to her liking.
Prophet Stanley warned Violet that she had to wait several hours for Samuel's fast to be broken before being able to see him, indicating thereby the observance of regulations governing fasting. Nevertheless, as soon as the message was delivered, Samuel's look of asceticism gave way to a look of much pleasure. He disappeared from the temple at once, not to return for the rest of the day.
I do not know what steps if any Samuel took on Violet's behalf. The view that women are a source of distraction could only lead one to imagine that in subsequent grips of religious fervor Priest Samuel would put the blame for having broken commune regulations and his own meditation on a woman. Women become scapegoats. When God asked Adam why he picked and ate the forbidden fruit, his answer was not that he himself wanted to taste it but that the woman gave it to him to eat.
Bobo treatment of their women does not differ essentially from the treatment most Dreadlocks accord their women. The main difference lies in the Bobo's greater ritualization of woman's "evil" nature. She is regarded as contaminating. Those prophets and priests who can contain themselves do so. Those men who cannot be sure to resist observe avoidance taboos.
Earlier, I implied that some Bobo might compensate for the ritual curtailment of their licit sexual activity by illicit relations with local women. Behind my impression is the assumption that the severe limitation on access to their women is a great strain. This of course is speculative. What is certain, however, is that religious fervor can make continence possible. Thus for example, Prophet Tommy, a young peasant convert from the Bito district near Bull Bay, had not, so he said, had intercourse for the last seven months because his girlfriend, also a peasant girl, "would not bow"; that is, she would not become a Bobo. He made it clear to me that this was the precondition he fixed on cohabitation. For him, therefore, religious fervor is placed above the personal need for sex. He also observed that he did not suffer from wet dreams as a consequence, for these he said came as a result of having rather than refraining from sex.
The Female Taboo | Beliefs and Rituals | Universal Ethiopian Anthem
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