Wife-beating as love ‘tonic’, girls as wealth generators…


BEING one’s own worst enemy is a phenomenon that wouldn’t be worrisome, if it were exclusive to thrilling novels and movies written and produced by highly imaginative writers and producers. That, unfortunately, isn’t the case, as examples abound in real-life situations, that compromise happiness.

They also poison cordial relationships amongst community members, stagnate national development, and mudsling the country’s image in the eyes of other members of the global family.

Girls and women are at the heart of raw deal dealings, thanks – thanks ? – to immensely cherished customs and traditions that puncture their happiness and dignity. Inherent in a relatively recent event in simiyu Region’s Itilima District, lie glimpses of the subject matter.

The District Executive Director, Mr Mariano Mwanyigu, said deeper impetus was being given to initiatives to free pastoralist communities from negative myths to which they were held captive, by, among others, enrolling girls in schools.

He decried the high value to which many men attached to cattle, as a status symbol, emboldened by many of the animals that are paid as dowry for daughters they marry off.

Some of them go to the ridiculous extent of programming their daughters to perform poorly in class, in order to terminate their academic careers prematurely, in order to serve as livestock investments!

Mr Mwanyigu also decried the reluctance by the communities to embrace the modern toilet culture, clinging instead, to the more familiar, but disgusting practice of easing themselves in bushes.

Going by the DED’s updates, sensitization campaigns are paying off by way of men progressively relaxing their conservative world outlooks, and embracing what they had previously detested and despised as foreign social-cultural imports whose thrust was to extinguish the flame as it were of the bright candle of sacred African values. That’s encouraging, and, hopefully, the same applies wherever else they are being undertaken.

I am under no illusions whatsoever, though, that the transition is, or will be a roller-coaster affair. Speedy and wholesome detachment from values held very dear, and which have been passed over several generations isn’t as easily to attain, as was, say, switching from typewriters to computers.

For, there’s a lot of relief, and thus joy in the case of the latter. A person sentimentally attached to a typewriter can keep it as a souvenir, occasionally dust it, and demonstrate its functions to perplexed grandchildren.

It takes much painstaking effort, on the other hand, for instance, to convince men in the broadly branded Sukumaland, that, possession of too many low-grade cows doesn’t tick as rational; and that what does, is to trim the number to a reasonable figure – whatever ‘reasonable’ may imply.

It is harder, still, to what may be considered ‘upgrading’ his mindset to perceive his daughter as a person whose being a girl is merely incidental; that, like a son, she can advance to the highest academic level, become, say, a surgeon, get married (and cattle not necessarily being factored into the equation) , and by extension enhance the family’s status by virtue of being a high achiever!

In a situation where a man can thump his chest and loudly declare that “My daughter is my property to whom I can put to any use, and dare anyone try to contest that fact…” the process of changing mindsets has to be slow, patient, diplomatic.

From Mara Region’s Tarime District emerged good news - that elders a much-respected component of the community’s social set-up had realized that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was harmful, and had pledged to support the government’s efforts to eradicate it.

There’s a likelihood of that position not being wholly representative of Tarime’s wazee, some of whom may be opposed to what they may perceive as cowardly submission by colleagues to ‘external forces’ bent on undermining cherished tribal customs, whom they may accuse of dancing to the tunes of modern civilisation. It may thus be too early to celebrate the beginning of the end of FGM.

So, campaigners against the painful, dehumanizing practice shouldn’t relax their guard. Then, enter wife-beating as a presumed tonic of love in Mara Region – a husband being the ‘dispenser’ and the wife being the appreciative ‘recipient’.

Plus, a wife complaining bitterly if the doses are not forthcoming, or being dispensed at wide intervals. To what extent what may have been a popular cultural practice that has largely been diluted by forces of so-called modernity may be debatable; or a trend that may still be fan cied as “cool’, I can’t tell.

We have to tread carefully in how, in pursuit of the give-and-take formula, we strike a judicious balance by retaining what is rational, casting the downright negative, and ‘polishing’ others in-between.

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