Traditional Values and the HIV/AIDS Fight

Published on 12th October 2010

One of the development issues expected of the modern Ghanaian/African state is how the state, as a rational entity, juggles openly Ghanaian/African traditional values with modern ones. The on-going African enlightenment movement argues for such, as a way of simultaneously refining the inhibitions within the Ghanaian/African culture and appropriating the enabling aspects for progress.

The traditional chief of Ghana’s Ajumako Solomon, Nana Kweku Dawson, indirectly said this when he advised that “the re-introduction of customs such as puberty rites” will “help check teenage pregnancy and the spread of HIV/AIDS.” By saying that there must be an  “African solution to African problems,” Ghanaian thinker George Ayittey means that  pretty much of Africa’s problems could be solved with African values, especially in a highly globalized world where both the good and the bad values cris-cross borders at ease.

One of the solutions to a globalized disease, HIV/AIDS, as Nana Kweku Dawson observes, is the time-tested traditional way. Though it is the same as the global talks of “abstinence” from sex till marriage, in Ghanaian/African tradition, it goes beyond mere sexual asceticism. As a young woman comes of age, traditional puberty rites and a set of rituals of social status take over. Ceremonies mark her formal entry into adulthood. The most prominent is found among the Krobo (where the puberty rites is called Dipo) and Asante (where the puberty rites is called Bragoro)  ethnic groups.

How is the traditional puberty rites solution to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, a modern medical problem? Though African women represent the gorgeousness, wholesomeness and poise of their societies, and are protected against venality by traditional regulations, at issue is total purity against all that may destroy or corrupt their health. As pillars of society, African women are expected to be properly trained mothers with good morals to bring up good children and maintain social order and progress.

One columnist, David Osei-Adu, explains that “according to traditional law no woman is allowed to get married without going through the puberty rites. Every young woman must remain a virgin prior to this. These laws ensure that young women grow up disciplined enough to control their sexuality and to prevent them from premature motherhood and unwanted babies. So important are these laws that any woman who gets pregnant or breaks her virginity before the rites are performed is sometimes ostracized together with the man responsible for it. On top of that, a heavy fine is imposed on the guilty party after which purification rites are performed to rid the society of the negative repercussions of their actions.”

In today’s Africa, traditional practices such as puberty rites are diminishing as deadly modern diseases such as HIV/AIDS increase. Equilibrium is needed to save Ghanaian/African society from destroying itself from modern diseases. It is in African tradition itself. Ayittey’s “African solution to African problem” and “the re-introduction of customs such as puberty rites” will help check teenage pregnancy and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

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