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Mauritania: A Custom of Force-Feeding for Marriage

In America, we commonly see brides-to-be devoted to their pre-wedding workout routines in preparation for the big day. Every known diet in existence is the “right” diet that will transform a bride into “the new her.” Every exhausting cycling class and gravity-defying yoga class is all in pursuit of “the perfect body.” Well, what if the ideal body type was not so much a 105 lb frame, but that of what we consider an overweight woman? What if your pre-wedding conditioning involved eating as many as four times the normal daily calorie intake, and enough camel’s milk to make a person ill? Unfortunately, just as America has it’s unrealistic and sometimes dangerous ideals, woman in Mauritania, Africa, suffer the same pressures of society but in a completely different way.

In Mauritania, it is believed that the bigger the wife, the more it is perceived that her husband is wealthy and can afford to satisfy her. This parallels to our notion that women with jewels and diamonds dripping of of her indicates wealth and of course, happiness. Girls as young as 5 years old, are forced into a custom called Leblouh. Leblouh is a yearly event where young girls are forced away from their families to “fattening farms.” It is here that they are involuntarily fed pounds and pounds of food, and gallons of milk and water daily. An ordinary day for them might consist of 2 kilos of pounded millet, with cups of butter added, and as much as 20 litres of camel’s milk.

When these young girls resist these fattening rituals, they are punished and even tortured. Unfortunately, the torture is even bestowed upon them when they vomit, the body’s natural response to being overfed. They are then forced to consume their own vomit. These girls are taught that this suffering will indeed bring them happiness. Happiness in this culture, means looking like that “ideal image” for a future husband. The younger they are thrown into these “fat farms,” the younger they can be forced into marriage. Bestowers of these cruel acts go as far as to roll sticks against the girl’s thighs in an effort to break down tissue, and accelerate this awful process.

While there remains some who stubbornly hold on to their heritage, more Mauritanian people are choosing to opt out of Leblouh. Unfortunately, former children of this custom are feeling the long-term effects of this aged thinking. The Mauritanian population of middle-aged women are suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and the list goes on. In moving forward, more women are exercising, going to school, and living a life outside of coerced child-marriages. Every culture evolves- the consequences of this custom are coming to light, and people are leaving it where it belongs-in the past.

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