The village of Mafi Dove, in southern Ghana, is home to around 5,000 people, almost none of whom were born here. Because of an archaic belief that childbirth in the village brings offense to the gods, expectant mothers are rushed to neighboring communities to deliver their babies there.
Like many other Ghanaian communities, Mafi Dove has a host of customs and traditions that have been passed down since times immemorial. But apart from minor taboos that don’t really impact the lives of its inhabitants, this village continues to enforce three major rules that make it unique in the world. One of the first things you notice when visiting Mafi Dove is the complete absence of animals. Apart from the wild birds flying overhead, there’s virtually no bird or mammal to be found here. Rearing animals in Mafi Dove has been forbidden for as long as anyone can remember, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Interestingly, bringing animals into the village and slaughtering them on the same day is permitted, but people aren’t allowed to rear them here.
The second thing you’re bound to notice in this Ghanaian village is the lack of a burial ground. Whenever someone dies, they are taken to cemeteries in other communities. And finally, the third strange thing about Mafi Dove is that almost none of its inhabitants were actually born there. Childbirth in the village is considered taboo, so women approaching their due date are transported to neighboring villages or towns and forced to remain there until their babies’ umbilical cords fall off. Only then can they return.
Because premature births increase the risk of a woman breaking the tradition by having a baby in Mafi Dove, it’s not unusual for expectant mothers to be sent out of the village 1 – 2 months before they are due. However, there have been cases where women had to be transported out of the village in excruciating pain, and babies suffering due to birth complications.
Mafi Dove’s unusual taboos are linked to the founder of the village, a hunter named Togbe Gbewofia Akiti. According to village elders, when Akiti first set foot on the land where Mafi Dove now lies, a voice from the sky told him that this was a sacred and peaceful place and that if he and his people wanted to settle there, they had to abide by the three rules: no animal rearing, no burials and no childbirths.
“Wherever there is evil, there is no development,” the elders of Mafi Dove said. “Because of these taboos, there has never been any bloodshed, crimes and so on. You are allowed to bring animals and slaughter them in the land, women are free to menstruate, but to give birth, no way. We are very proud to be bound by those taboos.”
Completely preventing childbirth is almost impossible, and the elders of Mafi Dove admit that there have been cases of babies being born in the village. However, these are rare exceptions that had to be be handled carefully to avoid angering the gods. The mother’s family needs to alert the elders as soon as an accidental birth occurs, so they can then carry out a ritual to cleanse the village and appease the gods.
Although childbirths in the village are frowned upon by local leaders, “offenders” aren’t punished by the community. The general belief is that mothers who break this ancient rule risk giving birth to abnormal babies, but no one can recall any babies being born with deformities or other health issues as a result of breaking tradition. Perhaps those cleansing rituals are super effective…
In recent years, more and more women have been challenging the taboos and demanding to be able to have their babies in the village without being shunned by the community, but the elders refuse to budge. They are convinced that honoring these longstanding traditions is paramount to ensuring the safety and prosperity of Mafi Dove and its people. However, they have made a concession, approving the building of a maternity clinic on the village outskirts, so that women can deliver babies closer to home.