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This Kenyan Village Is Home To Only Women

Rebecca Lolosoli came up with the idea of a female-only village in 1990. She was in the hospital at the time, recovering from an attack by a group of men who were angry that she had spoken to other women in her Samburu village about their rights. She founded Umoja in the grasslands of Samburu, in northern Kenya, with a group of 14 other women, all of whom were survivors of rape by local British soldiers. In the 25 years since, Umoja has grown and is now home to 47 women and 200 children. It's a safe haven for women looking to escape child marriage, FGM (female genital mutilation), domestic violence, and rape—all of which are unfortunately common in the patriarchal societies they were living in.

Recently, Julie Bindel from The Guardian traveled to Umoja to listen to the women's harrowing tales of what led them to seek out a village with no men.

"The British army got me when I was collecting firewood. There were three of them. They pushed me to the ground. Since that day, I have always felt pain in my chest whenever I remember," a woman named Ntipaiyo, who has lived in Umoja for 15 years, recounted.

Attempts to prosecute British soldiers for an untold number of rapes spanning 30 years led to a mass dismissal of the cases by the Royal Military Police and a claim that all the submitted evidence had been lost. But it's not clear that legal recourse would have made much of a difference for the Kenyan women anyway—many of the women fled to Umoja because their husbands had spurned them following a rape, as is quite common.

"Once a woman is raped, they are not clean any more in Islam and Qur’an culture. It is not fair, because it happens by accident," explained Sammy Kania, 33. Another resident, Seita, who doesn't know how old she is but carries an ID card with a 1928 birth date, confirms this. She came to Umoja because as a survivor of rape, "I would never be able to marry."

Others left their traditional villages earlier in life, after having been sold as child brides to men many decades older than them in exchange for livestock. Memusi ran away in 1998, one day after her wedding to a man 46 years older than her. She was just 11 years old at the time. 

But in Umjoa, they find relative peace and independence. They make a small but sufficient living running a tourist campsite nearby and selling beaded jewelry to tourists who visit the village.

"I have learned to do things here that women are normally forbidden to do. I am allowed to make my own money, and when a tourist buys some of my beads I am so proud," said Nagusi, a middle-aged woman with five children. The children who populate the village are not all from before their mothers moved to Umoja.

"We still like men," a younger woman said. "They are not allowed here, but we want babies and women have to have children, even if you are unmarried." Children seem to be the primary motive for seeking out male companionship for these women. "Without children we are nothing," one young woman, who has five children all with different fathers, said.

Men in nearby villages, who remain skeptical, see the desire for children as just one in a long list of reasons that Umoja will never work. "They think they are living without men, but that is not possible," said a nearby elder named Samuel.

But it is possible. At least for these women who have found refuge and a new lease on life. Judia, a 19-year-old who has lived in Umoja for six years, explained, "Every day I wake and smile to myself because I am surrounded by help and support."

[h/t The Guardian]

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AFP, Stringer, Getty Images
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
The Most Complete Fossil of an Early Human Relative Goes on Display
AFP, Stringer, Getty Images
AFP, Stringer, Getty Images

Twenty years after it was discovered in an African cave, one of the most important fossils in the quest to demystify human evolution is finally on display. As Smithsonian reports, Little Foot, an Australopithecus specimen dating back more than 3 million years, was revealed to the public this month at the Hominin Vault at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Paleontologist Ron Clarke discovered the first bone fragments from the fossil in 1994. The pieces came from the remains of a young female’s feet, hence the nickname. Clarke and his team spent years excavating Little Foot bit by bit from the Sterkfontein cave system in South Africa until the bones were fully removed in 2012. The shattered remains had been embedded in a concrete-like material called breccia, making them incredibly tricky to recover. But the sum of the parts is monumental: Little Foot is the most complete Austrolopithecus fossil known to science.

The hominid genus Austrolopithecus played an essential early role in the chain of human evolution. Lucy, another famous hominid fossil, is a member of the same genus, but while Lucy is only 40 percent complete, Little Foot retains 90 percent of her skeleton, including her head. It’s also possible that Little Foot surpasses Lucy in age. Most paleontologists agree that Lucy lived about 3.2 million years ago, while one analysis places Little Foot’s age at 3.67 million years.

Austrolopithecus is believed to have spawned Homo, the genus that would eventually contain our species. The discovery of Lucy and other fossils have led scientists to designate East Africa as the cradle of human evolution, but if Little Foot is really as old as tests suggest, then South Africa may deserve a more prominent point in the timeline.

Following Little Foot’s public debut, the team that’s been studying her plans to release a number of papers exploring the many questions her discovery raises.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Mark Golitko
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6000-Year-Old Skull Might Belong to World's Oldest Tsunami Victim
Scientists speak to residents in Aitape.
Scientists speak to residents in Aitape.
Mark Golitko

Tsunamis and other natural disasters have taken a deadly toll on human populations for millennia, and now we may have the oldest example of that truth yet. An international team of anthropologists and environmental researchers recently analyzed a cracked skull that belonged to a person who likely died in a tsunami some 6000 years ago. They detail their find in a new study published in PLOS One.

The partial skull in question, known as the Aitape skull, was found in Papua New Guinea in 1929 during a geological survey by an Australian scientist named Paul Hossfield. It has since been dated to the mid-Holocene epoch, or around 6000 years ago.

For the current study, the scientists returned to the site of the 1929 discovery to sample and analyze the sediment there to find out more about what might have killed the person millennia ago. They had only Hossfield's basic field descriptions to go on, but University of Notre Dame anthropologist Mark Golitko, one of the study’s authors, says that based on those descriptions, they think they were able to sample within 100 yards or so of the skull's original location.

The top of a brown cracked skull against a pink background
Arthur Durband

Based on the grain size, chemical signature, and marine microalgae found within the sediment samples, they were able to determine that around the time that the skull was buried, the area was inundated with water, probably from a tsunami. At that time, the site, located near the present-day town of Aitape, would have been just along the shoreline. Aitape was also the site of a devastating tsunami in 1998, and the Holocene sediments resembled the ones associated with that disaster.

It's possible that the skull was buried before the tsunami hit, and the grave was ripped apart by the waters and the rest of the bones scattered. However, during the powerful 1998 tsunami that killed more than 2100 people in Papua New Guinea, bodies buried in modern cemeteries were not uprooted even as the sediment above them washed away, making it more likely that the ancient skull belonged to someone killed in the disaster.

The new analysis has "made us realize that human populations in this area have been affected by these massive inundations for thousands of years," study co-author James Goff of the University of New South Wales said in a press statement. "Given the evidence we have in hand, we are more convinced than before that this person was either violently killed by a tsunami, or had their grave ripped open by one."

Field Museum anthropologist John Terrell, another co-author of the study, said, "If we are right about how this person had died thousands of years ago, we have dramatic proof that living by the sea isn't always a life of beautiful golden sunsets and great surfing conditions."

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