3. The More, The Merrier
In Mauritania, a man’s love for his wife matches her size. When a man is looking for a wife in this region, he looks for a woman who will fill his house. It goes without saying, then, that a mother will do the best she can to “grow” her daughters to the appropriate size in a custom known as leblouh.
During the precolonial period, most Mauritanians were nomads and lived in tents in the desert. Richer families could afford to own numerous slaves to do the daily chores. The women in such households were left with little to do, so they spent their days eating and relaxing in the tents. Consequently, they became more plump compared to their counterparts from poorer households. A man, therefore, took pride in a well-rounded wife because it was a sign that he was able to provide her with enough slaves and food. This is how leblouh came about.
Leblouh is still very popular in rural areas, where girls are encouraged to consume extraordinarily gigantic quantities of high-fat foods. These include camel milk, goat milk, and millet coupled with plenty of water. This diet is regularly fed to the girls, mostly between the ages of eight and 14, so that by the time they reach appropriate marriage age, they will have gained as much weight as possible in the hopes of attracting a suitable marriage partner. Of course, children tend to be very picky about their food. So in recent times, some women have taken it upon themselves to preserve this custom at a fee. Mothers send their children to these women, who are famous for successfully compelling them to gobble up uncomfortable quantities of food and even use force if need be.
Leblouh was introduced to the region by the Almoravid dynasty in the 11th century, and it spread to most of the areas that they conquered. It’s commonly practiced in parts of Mali, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria. Although a voluptuous woman is a symbol of wealth and affluence in these parts, leblouh is losing popularity among women today, owing to the many health complications it causes. Men still go for bigger wives, though.