Leblouh, also known as gavage, is a cultural practice in Mauritani that involves force-feeding young girls with large quantities of food and liquids, with the intention of achieving a specific body size or shape associated with beauty or social status.
What is Leblouh
The origins of leblouh can be traced to a period in Mauritanian society when there was a significant scarcity of food. During this time, having a larger body size was associated with good health, beauty, and the ability to withstand periods of famine. Consequently, the cultural practice of force-feeding girls emerged as a means to ensure their suitability for marriage, as well-nourished women were deemed more desirable and believed to have a higher likelihood of successfully bearing healthy children.
Leblouh involves a rigorous and demanding process of force-feeding, where girls are subjected to consuming large quantities of food and liquids against their will. Typically, the girls are fed a mixture of milk, couscous, and animal fat in progressively increasing amounts. Meals are meticulously planned and supervised, often lasting for several months. The goal is to make the girls gain substantial weight, which can sometimes result in extreme obesity.
The practice of fattening women in Mauritania is often carried out by Arab families. However, other ethnic groups in the country also practice this practice. Some families practice it at home, while others are sent to fattening farms. Fattening farms are typically run in remote areas of the country’s Sahara desert.
According to women’s rights campaigner Mint Ely, girls as young as five are subjected to Leblouh each year. They are sent away for Leblouh at special farms where they are expected to consume a daily diet of two kilos of pounded millet mixed with butter and 20 liters of camel’s milk.
This process is usually done during school holidays or in the rainy season when milk is plentiful. Torture methods are often employed in case the girls aren’t eating as much as they are expected to. Matrons use sticks which they roll on the girl’s thighs, to break down tissue and hasten the process.” Some other torture methods include ‘zayar’, where two sticks are inserted on each side of a toe. If a child refuses to eat or drink, the matron will squeeze the sticks together, causing a lot of pain.
One of the key concerns regarding leblouh is its detrimental impact on the health of the girls involved. Force-feeding large quantities of food can lead to severe health complications, including obesity, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and malnutrition.
Although leblouh is primarily associated with Mauritania, similar practices exist in other regions, albeit under different names. In some West African countries such as Senegal and Niger, force-feeding is carried out to enhance a woman’s curves and increase her marriage prospects. In parts of the Middle East, particularly Yemen and Saudi Arabia, girls are also fed large quantities of food to achieve a desired plumpness before marriage.