• While meant to induce pride, some decry the pain and being forced to engage in ritual
• Others resort to anal sex to protect virginity or collude with bride trainers to fake it
On the wedding night, a white sheet is spread on a bed that a couple should share.
The white sheet has a very important meaning. It is a virginity tester.
By this I mean when the couple have sex for the first time on their wedding night and the bride is a virgin, she will bleed and the blood stains the sheets.
The sheet is then shown to the family members for them to confirm the bride was a virgin.
The Star tried to find out more about this ritual, mostly practised among Coastal tribes.
First, I needed to hear from the instructor, the person who teaches the couples on the white sheet and how it should be used.
At the Coast, she is referred to as the ‘Kungwi’; let’s call her a bride trainer.
Aisha Abeid, a bride trainer at the Coastal city of Mombasa, she says this is a very important part and a respected culture of the newlyweds.
Once it is discovered that the bride is a virgin through the virginity tester, it fills the family with pride.
From the family of the bride who are proud to have raised their daughter with modesty in that she has grown up without being touched by a man, to the husband’s family, who are proud they have received a wife who was not touched by any man before but their son.
Abeid said the custom is mostly practised by the Digo of the Mijikenda community and also the Swahili community at the Coast.
She referred to the white sheet as ‘Bafuta’. She says it is not compulsory to conduct the norm but it is useful because it brings pride to the bride and her family.
Abeid said she starts by asking the bride if she is a virgin so she can prepare the white sheet for her.
“If the bride is not a virgin, the white sheet is not put on the bed and it is not a must for it to be put. I just give her bedroom tips and that’s all,” the bride trainer said.
When she is a virgin and the white sheet is spread and the test comes out that she was really a virgin, then she receives presents from both families.
“She usually receives presents from her siblings, her mother and the bride trainer, and these things should be expensive, including gold and money in cash. Also, she receives presents from her in-laws, starting from her husband and the mother-in-law,” Abeid said.
However, she said it is quite hard to find virgins in this era. Last year, out of 20 brides she dealt with, only five were virgins.
Abeid said there is a tactic being used by bride trainers, whereby they make a deal with the couple if the bride is not a virgin and they want people to think she is a virgin.
For a cover-up, they extract blood from a dove and it is used to smear on the bed so people believe she is a virgin.
“You will explain to them how the blood is smeared, take the dove's blood and tell them what to do, then tell the bride to pretend she is in pain,” she said.
Abeid said she supports the culture fully and does not see anything wrong with it. What she insists, however, is the couple should be willing to engage in the ritual and not be forced into it.
Leila Athman was married three years ago and also went through the white sheet ritual. She has no problem with the culture and was not surprised on her wedding that it would be done to her.
She knew it was a culture that had to be done; otherwise, people would be asking why she is regretting the culture.
“I did not take it to be offensive in any way because I knew it is our Swahili culture and it brings pride,” Athman said.
She said she was already prepared psychologically; she really had to prepare so she would not get shocked.
She says, however, that most people these days have abandoned the practice.
She said most parents do not support it any more as some of their children end up engaging in anal sex just so as to protect their virginity.
“People are tired of such a culture and some parents are saying it is promoting many girls to engage in anal sex and it has really brought a huge problem,” she said.
Ramla Ruwaida, who got married early this year, just recently said the white sheet was put on her against her will.
She said she would not want the culture to go on and it should totally be abolished.
“I do not encourage the sheet to be put to anyone, even though it was put on my wedding,” she said.
Hamisi Musa said it was really hard for him to undergo the test.
According to him on his wedding night, he pitied his wife because once the sheet is spread, there is no going back.
“It was hard to handle the whole situation as my wife was really in pain but I had to force myself through so we could go forward with good results,” he said.
Even though he pitied his wife, he still thinks it is okay to keep the culture going as it encourages women to maintain their virginity.
Edited by T Jalio