- Published on Sunday, 29 July 2012 01:05
- Written by HERMAN JOSEPH
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A kiss is undoubtedly a Western norm expressing intimacy, greetings or love. In contrast, traditional Africans have their own way of expressing such feelings. The Sukuma, one of Tanzania’s greatest ethnic segment, want a teenage girl to half-kneel when giving a mug of water to an elder.
At a local brew pub, a waitress must sip walwa (local brew) from a tumbler before passing it to a thirsty customer. Basically, such customs not only embrace a certain degree of values to people of Sukumaland but also place the woman as a person who is inferior and whose place is either in the kitchen or looking after the children. It does not give her the chance to participate in home management decision where she can also exercise her rights in decision-making.
Rituals and taboos that force young men to enter into marriage contracts with women who are not of their choice have resulted in conflicts leading to assaults and killings of innocent women. Increasing cases of rape and violence against married women in Kishapu District prompted an investigative task by a group of reporters, thanks to a sponsor by the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme, to establish the root cause of the problem and provide possible solutions.
In a recent incident, Shinyanga police found a young man in possession of a woman’s head believed to be that of his wife, stashed in a plastic bag. He was apprehended and charged for murder after admitting that he had committed the murder for the sake of money. “Unfair selection of marriage partners in our villages fuels domestic violence, increased number of divorce as well as killings of young couples, just within one year of a forced union,” said John Masaba, the Songwa Ward Executive Officer.
The traditional custom of selecting a partner in Sukumaland is known as Chagulaga, whereas young persons attend seasonal gatherings like weekly cotton markets and ceremonies like competitions among peer groups, according to elders of Ikombabuki village. Also, young women are free to approach isolated groups of young men for initiating a relationship.
A lucky candidate who meets the woman’s standards is called aside and hugged and given all sorts of assurance to show that a new relationship has just started. Ironically, while women have been using this kind of method to get themselves partners, it has ended up being a brief sexual relationship, rather than a life partner. During chagulaga, girls do not usually show willingness to enter into sexual relationship, lest they are branded prostitutes.
A man should therefore use a little bit of reasonable force to achieve his goal. This however, is not regarded as rape as in the end, there is consensus between the two. Anna Mwinamila (18) of Songwa ward, said she picked her husband through chagulaga during a ngoma festival when most farmers were celebrating cotton marketing. “I was with my fellow villagers aged between 16 and 18 years when I fell into the hands of anxious young men.
I selected one handsome man and our friendship was something other people envied,” said Anna. However, her father introduced to her an offer of marriage from another man when she was just in Form Two. She was forced to drop out of school and get married, as that would mean more cattle in the form of dowry. “Schooling shall not take you anywhere,” Anna quoted her mother as repeatedly telling her.
Marriage life for Anna was totally a whiff of hell as she was severely beaten and faced false accusations of unfaithfulness particularly when she arrived home late from fetching water or firewood. She was sometimes barred from going to church as her husband was a non-believer and only trusted traditions and taboos.
The case was almost the same to many of her friends who were married to people they do not appeal following the influences of their parents who do not value education of female gender and certainly wanting their daughters to bring more wealth in form of bride price. Anna suffered a miscarriage (4 months pregnant) last year when her ruthless husband kicked her, beating her in the middle of the night.
Although he was arrested and hauled to a police station and finally charged, he had left a scar on Anna. He was sentenced to twelve months in jail for assault and causing bodily harm. Poor Anna fell into the hands of a man who wanted to replace her imprisoned husband. But that was not before she contracted HIV as the person had multiple partners. “Poverty among young families was another cause of early marriage breakup.
We need to educated our community to abandon the outdated values such as chagulaga,” argued Dr Charles Mashenene of Songwa. Dr Mashenene urged the proper use of kitchen parties to instil life skills, emphasizing on safe sex. Former Shinyanga Regional Police Commander, Diwani Athuman said the killings of married women and elders in Shinyanga could be history if society would be educated on the principles of human rights and justice, and a better way of distributing the family’s wealth such as land, farms and cattle.
Every week the village health facilities receive two to four cases of women assault, resulting from failed marriage relationships and particularly dishonest partners either part, according to Dr Sam Joseph of Maganzo. “Songwa women must be educated to join and work together to identify their social problems surrounding them and find the best way of addressing the sustainable solutions, as TGNP expects to establish a women common centre that will enhance their capacity and stimulate activism and raise their voice against exploitation and oppression by men or society,”said Scola Makwaia, a TGNP Coordinator, when addressing a group of journalists and Songwa women representatives.