“My breasts started developing when I was 12,” says Blandine Lusimana, 31, who still remembers how her mother began trying to manipulate the way her breasts developed when she reached puberty.
“My mother used to wake me up just before sunrise, around 5am. She used to hit my breasts with a slightly heated wooden mixer (used normally to cook fufu in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)). They were gentle blows but on developing nipples one still feels some pain,” explains Blandine. Her mother, who carried out the procedure until Blandine was 15, explained that it was necessary to prevent her breasts from growing too fast.
A traditional practice
The practice is not however widespread in DRC. According to experts, it is limited to Kasaï province. “It is customary, before the massage, to poke the breasts with thatch, a kind of stalk abundant in Kasaï province. The mother can, thereafter, start massaging her young daughter’s breasts with a slightly heated wooden mixer,” explains Mrs Balela. According to her, the main reason for this practice is the beautification of the young womens breasts. “For the best results, the mother should massage the breasts of her daughter twice a day three days a week,” she insists. However, in Kinshasa where the thatch is not easy to come by, the wooden mixer is used.
Chantal Mbiya, who is in her fifties, comes from the eastern Kasaï region and has six children, four of them girls. She admitted that she used to massage the breasts of three of her daughters. “As far as I am concerned, it works. I didn’t massage the breasts of my second daughter and she happens to be the only one with large sagging breasts. On the other hand, her sisters, who went through the procedure, have sexy breasts, two of them despite breastfeeding,” Chantal Mbiya remarks.
Blandine disagrees: “I have normal breasts, like most girls in Kinshasa who did not go through the procedure. I am breastfeeding for the second time and my breasts are like those of normal women in my condition. I think that this practice is just a belief our mothers are holding on to, it doesn’t affect breast development at all.”
In Eastern and Western Kasaï, two provinces where early marriage is practiced, Sociology student Veronique Ngomba wonders whether the massaging of breasts is motivated by a desire for the parents to get their daughters married as soon as possible. “In the Kasaï, the daughter is still regarded as a source of income, not to mention a kind of product that must not be allowed to expire. Once she has reached a certain stage of physical development, her traditional guardian or her father is quick to get her married.
So the mother contributes, in her own way, in shaping the body of the girl who will be a source of income for the family, through the dowry”, Veronique explains.