Aljazeera reports that one 45-year-old man named Eric Aniva is going to court for doing his job. Considering that Aniva’s job was having unprotected sex with young girls, though, and also considering the man had HIV and risked spreading it whenever he was “working,” this might not be too unexpected a development.
Back in July, the Inquisitrissued a report on Aviva, one of the only people in the Southeast African country of Malawi who still works as a “hyena,” the title given to a man who is paid by parents to have sex with young girls just entering the sexual world. It is an ancient Malawian belief that sex with such a man will sexually cleanse the girl and prepare her for womanhood, exorcising evil spirits and basically making her ready to have sex with any man she pleases. Aniva might also perform the process on a newly widowed woman looking to reenter the world of sex with other men.
It should be noted that the “hyena man” practice is equally as horrifying to most Malawians as it probably is to the rest of the world. Only a very few parts of tribal Africa still get behind it, and Aviva is one of the last of his kind. The rarity of the man’s profession is precisely what made his story go viral after BBC wrote about it and produced an accompanying documentary back in July, and the resulting awareness of the man’s heinous practice is probably one of the reasons Aniva is now being brought to court.
“It is clear … that the state has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was engaging in harmful practices,” Judge Innocent Nebi told Aniva at the man’s trial on Friday. “Sexual cleansing violates the dignity of widows.”
As if that were not enough reason to lock the man up, State Prosecutor Chiyembekezo Banda pointed out that Aniva had been infected with HIV for years. Despite being aware of that fact, the man had continued his dirty work. He slept with 104 girls/women in total. Not one of Aniva’s clients has been proven to have contracted HIV from him, but Banda notes that, since approximately nine percent of Malawian adults are HIV-positive anyway, it would be nearly impossible to prove the disease had been the result of one specific encounter.
Banda is far from the only one who condemns the ritual of the hyenas, either. In fact, Aniva himself as well as his wife, Fanny, recognize that the practice of “sexual cleansing” is an archaic relic and needs to stop.
When asked if she would want either one of their two-year-old daughters to be subjected to a hyena after their first menstruation, the customary time, Fanny balked at the idea.
“I want this tradition to end. We are forced to sleep with the hyenas. It’s not out of our choice and that I think is so sad for us as women.”
Aniva, one of the few keeping the practice alive, also insists that it is terrible. He says he will soon quit the profession and that he certainly does not plan on letting either one of his children be part of the ritual.
“Not my daughter. I cannot allow this,” the man said during the BBC documentary. “Now I am fighting for the end of this malpractice.”
All that being said, though, Aniva does not think he should or will be found guilty. The man says he was just doing his job maintaining one of many ancient tribal traditions and chalks the huge backlash up to media sensationalism.
“I dared to reveal what I have been practicing,” Aniva said after the trial, referring to the viral BBC documentary about the man.
“But my arrest, prosecution and even imprisonment will not stop others from practicing a custom which has been in existence for over 100 years.”
Aniva’s defense lawyer also tried to avert a sentence for his client, imploring the court not to use one man as a “sacrificial lamb” on behalf of all Africa’s ancient tribal practices.
“The publicity he has attracted is punishment enough,” he said.
Aniva’s actual sentence will be announced on 22 November. The man may receive one to five years of jail time.
[Featured Image by Hadynyah/iStock]