HEALING ‘SICK FAMILIES’ TO SAVE THE GIRL CHILD.
Written by: Frederick H
In most parts of Africa, clan societies, customs, norms and traditional cultures are so deep-seated in the roots of rural communities, to the extent of society whining and killing its children without them. So often the oldsters keep traditional wisdom to themselves, using it as a whip against children, women and only pass it on to those that do their dirty work through proverbs and disciplinary action against those that oppose them, nevertheless, enlightenment has freed many people’s minds. Many intelligent young men and women have unlearned, developing to oppose several inhumane norms, customs and beliefs, while others have forcefully done away with degrading treatment like female genital mutilation. In traditional societies where men marry several women as a source of cheap labor on family gardens, early marriages are a day to day thing. Again this time round, I will share a series of stories from different parts of traditional African villages. These stories are intertwined in such a way, that even though from different African geographical settings, they make one complete plot. Let this open your mind, we may be miles apart, but the degrading treatment, injustices are similar. Let’s tickle our minds again.
During the first month of the wet season after the year of circumcision, a time when most farmers make the fields their friends, several, innocent and un-schooled young girls got married in the traditional districts, the widows were inherited and the men who could not afford traditional marriage ceremonies worked tirelessly to join the coveted class. Several huts made out of mud, reeds and grass were communally raised. For it was a season to sow, both in the fields and in marriages. Many children skipped school, to attend endless traditional marriage ceremonies that involved eating all kinds of food and dancing to the sounds of local drums all night. Every homestead was characterized by one big hut, surrounded by several small ones. These huts were too short to the extent that, tall villagers bent low in order to get through the doors. The big hut usually belonged to the head of the family. Every woman had a separate hut where she slept with her respective children.
The wife who had no children had the smallest hut. Nabirye was an inherited widow who got married to Dhikusooka the previous dry season.
She came into the marriage with a daughter, Maimuna. Maimuna was almost eighteen and the whole village regarded her as a wasted seed. She was so notorious for aborting to the extent, the village herbalist always had special abortion drugs dried specifically for her. She was always anywhere and never at home, but she was also a child. She always came back home late and Dhikusooka cared less about her, she was not his biological child. He Nabirye was powerless for the customs dictated untold weakness on her in the family.
At the end of the main village path, leading directly from Dhikusooka’s homestead, stood granny Majidu’s homestead, he was an elderly man and sickly. Villagers believed he was to die soon so a grave was dug specifically in preparation for his death, he was the only person of his age group left on the village but during the wet seasons he always got stronger and thrilled the villagers with great ancestral stories, he possessed several acres of land. All his daughters were married off before they made 16, he had only one son Menha, a lazy man who was less than a child. In all his talk, Majid vowed never to leave any property in his will for her daughters. He strongly believed in the belief that prohibited girls from inheriting anything from their fathers. Menha on the other hand, spent most of his days drowning in alcohol and took less care of his father or his
sisters. He had refused to attend any kind of formal education and always boasted of his father’s wealth. An opportunity that all his sisters were denied. The mother had just passed away and the challenges of life had started catching up with him. The world was toughening before him, yet he was nowhere close to being tough. The mother always did all he asked, Menha 40 years old, he still shared a hut with his aging father, the sickly Majidu. A cloud of shame hung over him but he cared less his brains were like those of fish. He always got most of the things that he wanted from his mother by use of threats, but he was regarded as the asset and his sisters a liability.
Opposite Majidu’s homestead stood Okafo’s humble home, his wife Naki was pregnant and they were expecting an addition to their home. This couple was only together because Naki’s father had given her that piece of land against the will of the clan, so Okafo took her for a wife in order to enjoy the fruits of that land. Okafo had grown up under abject poverty and all his kinsmen were poverty stricken. Naki withstood all his silly behaviors because she wanted someone to call husband, she was afraid of the consequences of being unmarried at the age of 30. Okafo was 22, looked thin and clueless of how to handle challenges of life but society dictated that every man had to get a wife and every girl had to get married, regardless of whether you loved the person or not.
Several times Majidu called Okafo and Dhikusooka to his home, they shared a pot of Malwa, a local brew, even when the old man was feeling sickly, he lay on the sisal mat while the rest sipped on the local brew all evening. They in turn shared food with him from their homes as their respective women served them all meals at his home as long as they were there. Menha having lost his mother, he also lost his little senses, he resorted to drug abuse and violence against young girls at the well. The village chief caned him several times and paraded him before the whole village naked, but none of the above changed his ways. The village resorted to running away from him every time he approached it. Meanwhile Maimuna’s disrespect for her mother grew every other day, she started wearing new clothes that her mother did not have a clue of the source and her character completely changed. She loved and enjoyed preparing food for Dhikusooka her stepfather and she made sure that he had warm water to bathe. While her mother went to the garden in the morning, she stayed at home taking care of her needs in the home and not the home’s needs. She always laughed at Okafo for being a weak man, and her mother for being too old to make an attractive wife.
One morning while Maimuna was starting off towards the trading center, with wandering on her mind she saw the old herbalist rushing towards Okafo’s home. Out of curiosity she rushed and followed her. Every one there looked terrified as though a lion had just eaten someone whole. Some women wept and shook their heads as though they were possessed, others fell to the ground cursing the day. Naki had just given birth to triplets, very healthy, they lay on the mattress peacefully. Triplets were wrongly believed to be a curse in Okafo’s clan. They believed, they carried with them evil spirits and power to burn whoever never pleased them. They also alleged that they had never had such a birth in their clan and therefore such a birth was a curse, no wonder the clan lived in a vicious circle of poverty. Their traditional beliefs never gave them opportunity to look for and embrace modern day knowledge.
Their high levels of poverty made it so hard for their children to attain a decent formal education to meaningful levels. Apart from
Maimuna and the local herbalists, every one abandoned Naki including her husband. The three took good care of the triplets but, Okafo never returned home. He abandoned the family for good. He left a hero according to tradition and custom but a disgrace in actual sense.
Meanwhile the village was grappling with another horror nearby, since abandoning Naki was in their opinion the right course to take. Menha had just slaughtered his own father. He had turned the old man’s hut into a slaughter chamber. The heartless man showed no regret for what he had done, he kept saying that his father had taken so long to die, yet he wanted to inherit his property. Holding a sharp panga in his left hand, he kept threatening anyone who came closer. The whole village assemble at the slain Majidu’s home, his body lay life less in two pieces. The head chopped off. Menha boasted, but the villagers were not ready to take in any of his savage behaviors. The village security committee head, tiptoed from Menha’s rear and jumped tacking the swelling Menha. They both fell to the ground with the panga on its own. Without anything like a lethal weapon, Menha became powerless. The furious villagers seized the opportunity to beat Menha up, no one dared to stop them, even the village crime preventers joined the fray, they were too angry. Whatever they did was equally savage, mob justice was barbaric, but no one was willing to listen to the voice calling for forgiveness. In the end, Menha joined his father.
After weeks of communal mourning, government officials came down, having received reports of a series of murders due to mob justice in the area. No one was arrested, the villagers had a rear kind of solidarity while others were afraid to say anything because they still wanted to stay on the village. Given the involvement of some of the local security personnel in the commission of the crimes, no one was ready to see any of them go to prison for something they believed in as the right and most effective form of justice. The Resident District Commissioner, who spent most of his time in the city came down and lectured the locals, he listened to their complaints and grievances and advised them accordingly. The villagers raised all kinds of petty issues. The herbalist who was always yelled at every time she raised her arm persisted till the Resident District Commissioner called her up, she authoritatively reported Naki’s condition in full view of all the journalists who had come from the city. Her story made rounds on local TV stations. Resultantly Naki was taken good care of by the First lady, under her projects that took care of single mothers. Many young girls started envying her, she attained skills in tailoring and started earning money. Okafo tried to return to the home but it was too late.
At Dhikusooka’s home, Nabirye was busy fighting with her pregnant daughter Maimuna. She was so heavy and Nabirye had just found out that Dhikusooka, Maimuna’s stepfather was responsible for the pregnancy. The homestead became a battlefield. Maimuna had no respect for her mother at all. She always referred and called her mother, her co-wife. They fought day and night. Dhikusooka, was not bothered at all, the elders in the village congratulated him for being a very sharp man. No one bothered to condemn his behavior, he was a hero according to their norms.
Well, what are we to do now? In all societies that we live in, we have families as the smallest units. Let’s ask ourselves, what have our families have done to empower the girl child, given all