A site for discussing life, writing and publishing in africa
Little Known Facts About African Polygamy (And Why Women Promote It)
May 24, 2008 by afrowrite
By Muli wa Kyendo
Today’s post is in reply to Sister Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade who, through an email, told me that she and her friends are promoting polygamy and the greatness of the black race. My dear sister, I read most of your blogs and I must say I am impressed by your enthusiasm, hard work and sacrifice. Although you are an American, in deed you live in the USA, you said you have lived in Nigeria for many years and raised your children there so they could learn the Yuroba language and culture. So I don’t need to bore you with the general details of our life in the East of our Great Continent. But I can assure you, we are a happy lot – happy because our lives are full of “cultural” drama, contradictions, ups and downs, ebbs and flows. As one man said, we take three steps forward and two back, but we are happily moving forward – slowly.
Like in the case of polygamy. Several years ago, my friend and writer David G. Maillu, published a book titled Our Kind of Polygamy to defend this age-old practice. He puts essentially the same arguments as you put – too many women chasing too few men, the right for all women to be married, the right of children to have legitimate fathers and so on. He even adds a manual for polygamous men on how to manage their wives. But I haven’t seen many men (or women) reading or referring to the book here in Kenya. My guess for this is that for us here, we are living that life. Almost every Kenyan lives in a polygamous home, grabbling with its realities – sometimes amusing, sometimes disappointing, and sometimes even grim. So we rarely have time left to think about it!
Let me tell you about our situation – the Kenyan situation. Because in Kenya we have many communities – call them tribes, if you like – Kenyans are always on the look out for a “neutral community” to produce a President. Many are convinced that a community called the Akamba – the fourth largest – would produce a good President. So gentle and “nice” are their men!
In Kenya’s disputed General Elections of December last year, a Mukamba – it means a person belonging to the Akamba community – was, among the Presidential candidates. In my view, he was the least credible. But Kenyans were willing to vote for him. And he would have been the President today if he hadn’t hopelessly bungled up his campaign. Why are the men so hopeless? Because of their women – at least, that it what research facts indicate.
Women propaganda, sticks and carrots
The Akamba men were socialized to worship physical power – fighting, cattle raiding, and so on. The women maintained a closely guarded culture of oppression in which men were excluded from all intellectual activities. The men’s only tasks were to raid cattle and guard the community. When they were not doing that, they were allowed to spend their time drinking beer or socializing. They were excluded from all creative activities where thought and tact would have been necessary. In deed, even in worshipping Mulungu, the Akamba God, the men were excluded. The women had, and still have, their own well organized religion called Kathambi. Their goddess, Kathambi, is the goddess of rain and fertility. The women associated rain and fertility with womanhood. And since men don’t give birth or menstruate, they were deemed incapable of communicating with Mulungu.
Kathambi women congregations
Kathambi is worshipped with Kilumi, a highly rhythmical dance with heavy drumming and which is today regarded the epitome of Akamba dances. It is danced for Presidents and eminent guests at almost all national days in Kenya. When danced during the women worships, the dance sends participants “into other worlds”. And only the women know how to bring those affected back to earth. The result is that many men are awed and fearful of the dance.
The congregation of Kathambi worshipping women is called Ngolano in Kikamba – that is their language – and the congregation is led by woman priestesses (those who have stopped menstruating and giving birth) in shrines called mathembo, composed of thick forests or huge trees.
The women’s system of prayer was – and still is – so elaborate it scared the White missionaries when they arrived in the country.
The Woman of Nzaui
The missionaries immediately “black listed” this women religion. It was their biggest challenge in their recruitment of the Akamba into Christianity. And the women recognized the Whiteman as their new and big enemy. The men were caught in between hate for the Whiteman and hate for the women, even as the fierce battle spread.
The first missionary had been so anxious to set up church in Ukambani – the area where the Akamba live – that he returned to America, put together an organisation he called African Inland Mission (today it’s called the African Inland Church) and return to Kenya armed with cash for the construction of a church. But the women wouldn’t let him construct a church; allowing him eventually to put a church only on a rock (the Church stands at a place called Nzaui even today).
The women, through their great intellectual power – influential poetry and song and sometimes direct confrontation (many of the priestesses were deported to island of Mombasa by the settler Government), continued their anti-colonial campaign, forcing the Whiteman to quit the mainland Ukambani, including Machakos, the town he had planned for the capital city of Kenya, and to move to Nairobi on the periphery.
The earliest Kenyan human rights campaigner
Just to give you a feel for the battle – there was a woman priestess named Syotuna. One day, she came upon a group of young Akamba men carrying a White District Commissioner on a stretcher. There were no roads in most parts of the country yet and stretchers with four hefty young men for bearers were the common mode of travel for European settlers, colonial government officials and White missionaries. Syotuna was so exasperated that she shouted at the young men, “Aren’t you ashamed to carry a man like yourselves!” And to the DC she shouted, “Why can’t you walk? Have you no legs?” The ashamed young men quickly dropped the stretcher and fled into the bushes, leaving the DC stranded.
These words are recorded by the DC who proceeded to deport Syotuna to Mombasa.
Did Women Invent Polygamy?
The Akamba men derided the women with derogatory remarks. The women tried to appease them by making them feel like great kings in their families. The women got men other women to marry for second, third, fourth or just many wives as the first wife wanted. But all these wives had loyalty to first wife, the woman who brought them into the family. Polygamy was therefore a way of women enhancing their power and control over men. (Compare that with the so-called patriarchs of the Old Testament. Women brought their husbands other women for wives and the men accepted without complaint or appreciation).
The result of this arrangement is that the community produces “nice” men, but who are totally unequipped for modern leadership. Generally they lack depth in thought and they are devoid of strategy and tactics, necessary for modern competitive world. My play, The Woman of Nzaui, discusses this issue.
Syokimau Cultural Centre
By the way, we have a not-for-profit membership cultural centre, the Syokimau Cultural Centre, where we are encouraged in promoting research and use of African culture in writing and in government development programmes. It’s named after the most ancient and the greatest of these priestesses (talk of oppression!). It is recognized by UNESCO and the Kenya Government. It will soon launch an e-newsletter to promote its work and to reach our members abroad.
Please let us know whether this has been of any use to you and your group. And let’s increase the debate even we encourage the preservation of the African culture.
Tags: African Polygamy, Akamba, Kenya, polygamy, Worship, Yuroba
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment