To the outside world, Eric Aniva is a monster. This 40-something Malawi-born man has been taking the virginity of girls as young as twelve years old since 1995, and he isn’t ashamed to tell people about it. In fact, his sex-work is “tradition”, and he is hailed as a respectable figure in the community.
If that shocked you, what’s even more cringe-worthy is the fact that Eric Aniva has HIV, and no one is telling him to do anything about it. Condoms are not an option either.
These are the realities of the situation but as the story gains traction, many are now asking, who is this man being paid $4 to $7 to have sex with young girls, and why does he continue to perform this “tradition”?
Here are 5 fast facts about Eric Aniva, and the work that keeps him going despite prejudice and pressure from the international community.
1. He is called ‘the Hyena’ of the village.
Aniva’s job as a sex worker has a title. Called the ‘Hyena’ of the village, hyenas are traditional and cultural fixtures in southern Malawi whose main job is to “cleanse” young women, women who have committed abortion, and widows, by having sex with them. For girls who have just had their menstruation, hyenas are actually paid by the families themselves to break their virginity throughout a three-day period.
According to the news, if the girls refuse this sacred tradition, the village elders believe that it will bring bad luck and misfortune to their families. This fear is what forces all the girls into complying with the “tradition.” Aniva has also noted that he commonly sleeps with young school girls, though he has voiced out that he prefers them older.
2. Young girls are sent into initiation camps.
Part of the cleansing tradition, young girls who are ready to bear children for their future husbands are sent into initiation camps where they are reported to begin training on how to please a man. Hyenas also play a part in this sexual learning. Additionally, having sex with the hyena is said: “to avoid infection with their parents or the rest of the community.”
3. Eric Aniva has HIV.
He does but the village elders don’t think that this is a problem. In fact, they don’t even believe that Hyenas are capable of getting diseases because of their supposed “good morals.” However, that doesn’t erase the fact that Aniva, who claims to have had sex with more than 100 girls since his last 2012 count, is infected with the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world.
His “work” in the village, which is made mandatory by the elders, is only spreading the disease. Condoms and other forms of birth control are also forbidden. The cleansing tradition has placed countless young girls at the risk of pregnancy and HIV exposure in a region where the disease has a high rate of transmission.
Shockingly, Aniva hides the fact that he is HIV positive to the parents of the children he is paid to have sex with.
4. Aniva is proud of his work as a hyena.
As he explains the extent of his “work” to a BBC interviewer, Aniva says that all the girls, no matter their age or circumstance, find enjoyment in what he does as a hyena. He says that they are “proud” to have a man who knows how to please a woman. However, when his former clients are asked about the experience, they sing different songs. Many of them share a common reason for going through with it: pressure from the elders, and fear of being the cause of something going wrong.
One of the girls named Maria admits, “If I’d refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases – even death – so I was scared.” Even one of Aniva’s wives, a woman named Fanny who was widowed up until she had to endure the same sexual ritual which eventually led to her remarriage, says that she wants the practice to end.
She looks at her two-year-old daughter and sees the worst in her future. “I don’t want that to happen,” she cries out. “We are forced to sleep with the hyenas. It’s not out of our choice and that I think is so sad for us as women…I hate what happened [to me] until now.”
5. His work is not condemned.
Despite the great risk of further increasing the spread of HIV in Malawi, the practice of the hyena is not at all condemned. The institutions who are against the practice are valiantly asking the elders to cease and desist, but the government itself does not condemn what the hyenas do out of cultural respect.
Dr. May Shaba, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Gender and Welfare, says that the best they can do is educate the families so that they are aware of another choice. But if the orders to continue the practice come from the village elders themselves, then there is little to be done against it.
“There’s nothing wrong with our culture,” Chrissie tells the interviewer. Chrissie is one of the custodians of their tradition. “If you look at today’s society, you can see that girls are not responsible, so we have to train our girls in a good manner in the village, so that they don’t go astray, are good wives so that the husband is satisfied, and so that nothing bad happens to their families.”
Aniva admits that he is about to stop participating in the hyena tradition, thinking of his daughter and the future that will follow her when she comes of age. However, the reality is that he is not the only hyena, as there are others assigned to the training camps when he is not around.
What do you think of this shocking cultural tradition? Comment below and let us know your thoughts.