The dark side of motherhood

Today, May 10, is Mothers Day in the corner of the planet where I am at this time (Mexico). The rest of the world will observe this day on other days. Never mind the day, it’s the spirit that counts.

There is much to celebrate, and also much to mourn. Spare a thought for those whose mothers have departed; for those that have mothers that should not wear that title; and for those that grieve because they are mothers.

Caroline Mutoko’s piece in The Star reminds us of the joys of motherhood and being mothered, but also the sorrow monster-mothers can visit upon their children (see link below)

From Mauritania, a harrowing CNN narrative (link below) on the pain of motherhood when one is a slave, owned by another like any other piece of property or livestock, as are your children, and as will be for their children. Opening lines of this horror story: “Moulkheir Mint Yarba returned from a day of tending her master’s goats out on the Sahara Desert to find something unimaginable: Her baby girl, barely old enough to crawl, had been left outdoors to die.” Reason? Punishment and that she would “work faster without the child on her back”.  The child was a product of rape by her enslaver-“owner”. He would not even allow her to give her child a proper burial. “Her soul is a dog’s soul,” she recalls him saying. No burial rites for the murdered child.

For Selek’ha, Moulkheir’s other daughter, the rapes began at 13 and their enslaver-“owner” impregnated her at 15 or 16. It didn’t stop there: “That [unborn] child’s birthday would never come. In Selek’ha’s ninth month of pregnancy, her master put her in the back of a pickup truck and drove her down a bumpy rural road at high speeds, jostling Selek’ha and her unborn child like laundry in a washing machine. Selek’ha’s baby died on that ride — just as the master planned.”

And for Moulkheir, that singular new pain, the killing of her child’s child, is what finally broke the mental shackles that she had been born into and socialised into to accept slavery as her lot in life, for her and her children unto the nth generation. For although Mauritania criminalised slavery in 2007 (the last country on the planet to do so), to date, only one legal case has been successfully prosecuted against an enslaver, and the banning of slavery has remained ‘shelved’ in the books and statutes: nothing has changed in practice.

Slavery in Mauritania is deeply steeped in racism (black Mauritanians are enslaved by lighter-skinned ones), and is an unholy mix of retrogressive tradition, indoctrination where slavery is drilled into the mind such that the shackles that bind the slaves are the vilest and most insidious kind of all — mental, not physical. Needing no physical restraints to hold them, it has been described as “the slavery American plantation owners dreamed of.”

To all this, add religion, and an interpretation and practice that not only fails to condemn, but goes a step further to condone and commend: the  imams (Islamic leaders), speak in favour of slavery.  According to a Mauritanian activist, Boubacar Messaoud, “They make people believe that going to paradise depends on their submission.”

Today, spare a thought for slave-mothers in Mauritania — mothers who have nothing to celebrate. Spare a thought too for the children of monster-mothers. They too have little to celebrate today. And ponder on what we look like as mothers (and fathers too) in the eyes of our children.

Relevant links:

  1. In our daughters’ eyes  by Caroline Mutoko in The Star. In this piece, she reminds us of the children who are hurt and disappointed by their mothers
  2. Slavery’s last stronghold — a CNN story on slavery in Mauritania today, the story of Moulkheir and her pains as a mother, and the story of others who share her fate, plus facts and figures
  3. Movement for Justice and Equality in Mauritania (MJEM) website
  4. Mauritanian activists burn ‘Islamic’ books that condone slavery and are arrested for this burning.
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About Njeri Okono

I am, therefore I write
This entry was posted in Governance, Human rights, Mauritania, Motherhood, Politics, Race and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The dark side of motherhood

  1. Pingback: Mothers’ Day 2013 | Njeri Okono

  2. Princess says:

    Very saddening that the people we look up to would be the same ones to enslave us. In this case, the Imams.

    To add on to this, one does not have to be in chains to be enslaved. These days one can also be enslaved mentally. For instance in Kenya, preachers asking house helps to give up their salary in church in order to have eternal life and even enter God’s kingdom.

    Just like you pointed out, we all know the kind of robbery and injustice that goes on, and what’s worse is that implementation of the laws to protect victims is rarely heard of. That is mental slavery. Where we are reared that things run in a particular way and are afraid of change-even if that change is good for us.

    In my opinion, the saying “better the devil I know, than the angel I don not know” in this case is a very bad policy to adopt.

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