Eritrea: Virginity | Ribka Sibhatu

To a bride, her virginity can be more important than her eyes. In
our tradition, if a bride isn’t a virgin, the day after her wedding, we
return her to her parents’ house, dress her in a wonciò, and set her on a donkey. This is considered a disgrace by the whole family. During the war, people fled the city for the countryside. To adapt, you had to make sacrifices, like carrying twenty litres of water on your shoulders, even if the well was three or four kilometres away. In 1981, I was a refugee in Adi Hamuscté, some twenty kilometres from Asmara. One afternoon, a handsome youth and four old men came to the house where I was staying, and explained that the young man, whom I’d never seen before, wanted to marry me, because a day earlier, he’d had the misfortune to discovered that his bride had been violated! If my father had agreed, and I’d refused their proposal, I’d have risked either being married off or being cursed by my father. The curse of a parent is a child’s worst fear. So I had an idea: to declare that I too had suffered an irreparable incident…! I leave you to imagine my father’s reaction who, in the eyes of our community, was also disgraced. This young man of ours left without a word in search of his virgin.

Original Poem (Translated by Andre Naffis-Sahely)

La verginità è importante come gli occhi, se non di più, per una sposa.
Nella nostra tradizione se una sposa non è vergine l’indomani del suo
matrimonio la si riporta a casa dei suoi le si mette addosso lo wonciò (*) e la si carica su un asino. Questo fatto è considerato una disgrazia per tutta la famiglia. Durante la guerra la gente di città si era rifugiata nelle campagne. Per integrarsi ci volevano tanti sacrifici, per esempio si doveva portare una ventina di litri d’acqua sulle spalle anche se la sorgente si trovava a tre o quattro chilometri di distanza. Nel 1981 ero rifugiata ad Adi Hamuscté, una ventina di chilometri di Asmara. Un pomeriggio arrivarono, nella casa dove ero rifugiata,un bel giovanotto e quattro anziani e mi spiegarono che il giovanotto, che non avevo mai visto prima di allora, voleva sposarmi perché il giorno precedente aveva avuto la disgrazia di trovare una sposa violata! Se avessi rifiutato la proposta e se mio padre fosse stato d’accordo con lo sposo avrei rischiato o di essere sposata con la forza o di essere maledetta da mio padre. La maledizione dei genitori è molto temuta dai figli! A questo punto mi venne un’idea, quella di dichiarare d’aver avuto anch’io un incidente irreparabile…! Vi lascio immaginare la reazione di mio padre che nella nostra comunità venne anche lui considerato disgraziato. Il nostro giovanotto senza aprir bocca andò alla ricerca della vergine!

(*) una specie di coperta di lana ruvida, di colore nero, normalmente usata per la sauna tradizionale solo dalle donne.

Ribka Sibhatu is a poet from Eritrea who writes in Tigrinya and Italian. Her first published work was Aulò! Canto Poesia dall’Eritrea (1993), a collection of lyrics and prose poems. It was followed by Il Cittadino che non c’è. L’immigrazione nei media Italiani (1999 ), a sociological look at the Italian media’s coverage of immigrant communities. She speaks five languages and currently works as a social mediator, focusing on improving inter-cultural relations in state schools.

Culled from

Cote d’Ivoire: If You Could | Assamala Amoi

If you could leave when work was done

Like the sun at the end of its day;

If you could arrive like the day and the night

At an hour chosen by the seasons;

If you could hear the farewells like the tree

Listens to the song of the migrating bird

– who would dread departures, returns and death?

.     .     .

“Si on pouvait”

Si on pouvait s’en aller à la fin de son ouvrage

Comme le soleil au terme de sa course;

Si on pouvait arriver comme le jour et la nuit

A l’heure choisie par les saisons;

Si on pouvait entendre les adieux comme l’arbre

Ecoute le chant de l’oiseau qui le quitte

Qui craindrait les départs, les retours et la mort?


Assamala Amoi was born in Paris in 1960, and lived in France with her parents until 1966. Upon her return to the Southern part of the Ivory Coast, she attended the University of Abidjan, where she graduated with a Masters in English Literature, and a Translator Certificate (French-English). From December 2000, she has worked for the World Health Organisation.

Poem culled from Zocalo Poets.

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