The story told by Laura Cini in the documentary Punishment Island is really stomach-churning. In Akampene, a minute island off the coast of Uganda, several tribes who lived on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi in the south-east of the country abandoned girls who became pregnant; many of them had been raped. For their relatives the problem was not so much the scandal but rather the loss of their value: indeed, a young woman who had lost her virginity could no longer be sold on the wedding market. From being assets – to be bartered in exchange for cows – they were suddenly transformed into burdens. On this minuscule island the alternatives for these young women and their bellies were death from hunger, from drowning or from being devoured by hippopotamuses. The luckiest were “saved” (after being forced to rid themselves of their babies) by people seeking slaves that cost nothing. In the documentary this horrifying story is told from the island by a voice-over which recounts the misfortunes of Mauda, Jenerasi and Grace, three survivors whom the Italian film director met. And while the arrival of missionaries put an end to the practice (today Akampene has only large clumps of reeds), the mentality does not seem to have changed. Indeed, the girls themselves describe their pregnancy (even when the result of rape) as their own fault and their new masters as benefactors.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 21, 2019
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