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The last vestiges of our cruel culture, IsiNdebele culture: Polygamy

04 Jun 2015 at 14:00hrs | Views

Polygamy will be wiped off by growing globalization 

My mother was the fourth wife to my father, he had six wives in his homestead. She was not the favorite wife to my father as she was the wife-in-between. She could also be called "hut number four" which could be her definition and value rank in the home. I was born in 1955 in Tsholotsho in some tribal trust lands. My name is Bathabile. My mother had four children, myself, Sondlo, Dingulwazi, and Madoda, of her own in a homestead that had twenty seven children already. Of the four I was the first girl and the rest three were boys. It was the duties in the homestead that was allocated by the first wife, mama omdala, who was childless and never worked in the fields like all other mothers.

My mother had to be obedient to her first wife-mate and secondly to her husband. She was given the fields where she produced her crops for herself and gave some to mama omdala. My mother never attended school for once, it means she could not read or write, illiterate. Hard work is what she could offer in her new social dispensation, the marriage. She was a very hard working woman indeed. It was not only the fields where she produced crops for sale, she had a garden too where she practiced horticulture. She produced vegetables for sale and this generated a considerable sum of income in her homestead to be able to send her children to school.

The homestead had a distinct set up with its huts all in the line. There were six main huts, each hut had a bedroom and a sitting room. In front of the main huts are kitchens also six of them. Then there was one hut for boys and one for girls further from the kitchens. When the children were big enough to sleep on their own without any attention from the mother, they joined either the boys' hut or the girls' hut depending on what gender they belonged. These huts for either boys or girls were called amaxhiba. Children of all huts, which are of all the mothers in the homestead shared the same amaxhiba. These setups of children's' huts were not without challenges. Serious quarrels in the home started in the children's huts most of the time.

A lot was shared and a lot would go missing and a lot would be torn and destroyed out of jealousy. Something or just anything just caused misunderstanding that spilled over to the mothers who would then defend their offspring to the teeth. There could be tensions in the home, yes, but I never saw any of my mothers fist-fighting. It was the exchange of words that was not comfortable to the children. After every encounter of verbal clashes it was the first wife who put order in the home and, depending on how serious it was, she would not tell it all to my father. She sorted most of the disputes singlehandedly, giving her some respect to the other co-wives.
Evenings could be welcoming in this home as all mothers would gather together to share the evening meal. They would be gambits surrounding their discussions, laughing sharing jokes giving the impression to the children that all is well. Obviously it was apparent to us that they did not like each other all of them, evidence with the gossip behind one another's backs.
If the first wife went to Bulawayo to visit our father, in the evening she would be the food for gossip by almost all the rest of the other mothers who would have remained at home working very hard. The first mother never worked really in the fields, she was the privileged person in the home. They would sit there and talk for a long time on their own. I have always wondered what they discussed together, given that they were implicitly rivals for one man, my father but they wanted to make it explicit.

What pulls them to live together so relatively well organized? Is it the phallic power of the man they shared? Their husband came to visit them every six weeks. What is the glue that held them together to withstand all odds in a polygamous institution? Where does this absolute loyalty and obedience come from? Is it poverty that made my mother to surrender herself to this institution, otherwise a very intelligent woman? Nothing adds up to total how a human being would subject herself to near slavery just to maintain the notion "I am married and therefore a decent woman." What a knave institution cloaked in the language of traditions and culture, but an attempt to critique these appropriations is to invite open insults. Polygamy is ingrained in our culture hence its presence to this date and it would be the changing into the cash economy and the education of girls that would tamper with its existence and crush it altogether.

A man who has many wives could be a blessing in the sense that the spacing of children is wide. It means it took a long time until our father could be visiting our mother in her hut, the birth control of the time. My father worked as a policeman in Bulawayo. He lived in Western Commonage with either the first or the last wife interchangeably. The wives were all in the country, emaguswini, in the homestead except the first wife who would exchange with the last wife to live in town with my father. This arrangement suited my mother somehow as she needed to concentrate on producing vegetables and crops to sell to generate cash so that she can send her children to school. In 1968 I was able to attend a secondary school after my standard six results came out and I had passed well to get into one of the best secondary schools in Matabeleland, St. James Mission in Nyamandlovu.

Every child born in a polygamous family knows this: the competition that goes on in the homestead, absolutely puerile. Who is the best? It is this question who is the best that was very fluid. Competition could be a measure in anything at all. Competition in terms of who produced the most crops. Competition in terms of whose hut is cleaner than the others. Who has better furniture in the hut better than the others? Are the utensils used better, bought in Bulawayo and not second hand? It was competition in terms of which child is attending secondary school and where? Which woman is well-behaved towards her husband better than the others? Who cooks the best food if it was her turn and the husband was at home? The list just goes on and, with time, it creates tensions in the home.  

Children are brought up obeying strict orders never to eat anywhere else except at your mother's hut to avoid food poisoning, a common thing in polygamous families. It was the duty of the first wife to keep law and order in the home and not the husband. It is this mood, this air of rivalry and internecine feuds, popular fear and prejudice that the children catch and internalize when they grow up to be adults. They absorb the rivalry of the situation in the homestead and internalize it make them theirs. Above all each and every woman in the homestead was very protective of their offspring, until madness. Fist fights occurred if one mother disciplined a child that was not biologically hers, but this seldom happened because everybody in the homestead knew the limits she could go with another co-wife's children.

My father came home once in six weeks, and he took rounds in visiting his wives in their huts. He would start with the second wife, after six weeks when he came he would go to the third wife and then the fourth and the fifth and each time he would spend the whole weekend there in that hut until he went back to Bulawayo. When he came from Bulawayo, he would bring a big grocery that would benefit the hut he would be visiting that weekend. But that wife would share the grocery with other wives a sign of "togetherness!" Or she would cook and eat together with all other co-wives. The first and the last wife took turns to visit my father in town in Bulawayo, they were not considered needy "emotionally" as they saw my father more often than the other wives.

When my father arrived home from town, he would be informed by the first wife what would have transpired in his absence. How were the wives behaving towards one another? Any fights among the children? Are the cattle well looked after and do they dip every week? Who was sick? If there was something that needed clarification by my father, if anything, he would call all his wives to the hut of the first wife. He would tell them what he wanted and expected from them. Loyalty to the first wife was emphasized all the time. If a wife needed something from my father, she communicated to the first wife who was then going to tell the father and the reply was conveyed back with the same route too. If my father bought dresses for his wives, it was the first wife who distributed the gifts to the other wives. Clearly the first and the last wives were favored most in all aspects of the marriage set up, but benign to the rest.

In the evening the children played together, there was no separation of play groups because it was not allowed to play separately in the evening. Children of the same father should play together. (Abantwana besende le ndodanye) Boys were given equal responsibilities of looking after the cattle. Girls did the home duties of cooking and cleaning the home, at the same time assisting the mothers with the work in the fields. It was the pounding of corn to produce flour that was the most challenging thing for the girls. Fetching water and collecting firewood were duties appreciated by the girls in the homestead as it gave them the opportunity to leave the compound and meet with other young women and girls of their age, some respite from the glare of the control fever at home. Before they went to school, the boys did the milking of the cows in the morning and the milk was shared by the first mother, mama omdala, to all other mothers.

Every wife in the homestead knew her chickens that mixed freely with other chickens of other hut owners. There were happy moments in the homestead especially if one of the mothers brewed some beer and it was nice tasting, she would get a lot of praise from the first mother and the villagers. None in the home went to church but only the children as it was prescribed in the syllabus, a compulsory duty to all school pupils to go to church every Sunday. Each wife had her own outbuilding where she put her maize and amabele and unyawuthi that is to last the whole year. Excess harvest was sold to generate cash that was used to send children to school. My mother never gave the need to talk or even quarrel with her mates much as she was busy trying to put all her energy in hard work to produce more to sell to get all for the betterment of her children.

She was busy the year round. Her garden was her strength where she had greens, tomatoes, sweet and Irish potatoes, carrots, onions, beans, peas. We had good nourishing relish almost every day because of my mother's hard work. Of the six wives, she is the only one who managed to plough amabele successfully and she had up to more than five bags every year, an enormous achievement for a woman who barely read and wrote.

The first term I went to secondary school, my mother bought so many nice things for me. I had two pairs of shoes, nice shoes. I had three uniforms and three pairs of socks bought at Hassamals. I had every toiletry I needed, several dresses, petticoats, underpants and pocket money. My situation at the Mission was so elevated, nobody would have believed it if I told them I come from a polygamous family. I managed to hide my background to my fellow students. I did not feel deprived anyhow during my time at St. James Mission. I was the envy of many girls in the mission. Because I did not feel deprived in material things, I did well in my school work. I passed so well in my form four GCE examinations to qualify to go for lower six at Mpopoma Secondary School in 1973.

It was my good performance at school that elevated the status of my mother in the home too. She was the example of all other wives my father had. She became the favorite and was then allowed to live in town with my father. This development assisted me in many ways as I had to live with my mother and father under one roof for the first time in my life. My younger brothers did well too in their secondary education. It was my father' pay for the first time that was supporting the school fees for the four of us. Immediately when I finished my upper six in 1975, I registered at Mpilo Hospital to do nurse's training.

 I was then able to assist my father with my brothers' schools fees for them to complete their secondary education as well. When I invited my mother for a graduation ceremony at Mpilo: my mother stopped sad tears crying only when she had arrived. She felt as if she was the one who had actually qualified to be the nurse at this prestigious hospital in Bulawayo, the second city of Rhodesia. The happiness she experienced almost overwhelmed her. She cried the tears of joy and stopped crying the tears of pain and humiliation and hard work she endured when she was bringing us up with little or nothing but just her bare hands that produced wonders for her.

The inevitable happened. I had just finished my third year nurse training in 1979 when I fell in love with a man who was working at the RR (Rhodesia Railways). It was common those days to fall in love with guys from the RR. He came from not very far from our village. We met at the famous ballroom dancing events that took place at Mpilo during my training. We had been together for about three years, enough to be confident of taking him home to show him to my parents. Again we had to go home for the very important ceremony, the paying of the lobola. But before the lobola ceremony was done, he had to come to visit the home where I was born and meet the co-owners of the girl he was getting married to. This development did not go well with other co-wives of my father.

My mother was becoming dominant in the home as if she was taking the place of the first mother. But it was indeed her work and achievements and not that she was showy anyhow that she was better. It was the gossip, that she has her nose up and the husband now prefers her to all other wives even sidelining the first and the last wife in the home.  It was my father who intervened in protecting his fourth wife. He spoke about her hard work and how she managed to send her children to school, all was her efforts and he as father did less in the development of her children. His intervention settled less the disgruntled minds of the wives but it was apparent that they were over jealousy about our achievements. The first mother was responsible again in the lobola ceremony that was to take place at home.

My boyfriend, Nkosinathi Mazibuko, came to see the home and my parents one afternoon. They were told about the visit prior to his coming. It was like a big party, a goat and five chickens were slaughtered in his honor, a gesture too big for the large and humble family. There was beer as well, brewed by my mother and the other co-wives.  There was a formal introduction done. All wives were present, all wearing the same dress colour and design as is the case in polygamous families. It was the first mother who was introduced first, (she did not have her own children) then the second and her children, then the third and her children, the fourth was my mother, me and her boys. The fifth wife and her children were introduced and the last was the favorite sixth wife and her children.  There was plenty of food that accompanied the day and many other activities such as spontaneous music usually sung by relatives who would have come for the day to see the future son-in-law.

Many events were done, the parents were happy about their offspring that was taking a second major step in her life. That day I was seen in a positive light, a girl-child that is resourceful and was well looked after by her mother, she never brought shame to her parents either by getting pregnant early and forcefully get married as a result of failing in her academic work. It appeared as if it was more than an uneducated woman like my mother can afford. I was respected even by my father who usually had less respect for women generally.  For the first time he did not call me by my first name, Bathabile, instead he called me by my totem, Madlodlo, a sign that I was leaving his home to be married and also that respect I had to get it first in his home.

My mother was then suddenly called nakaMadlodlo, instead of nakaBathi. My mother and I both enjoyed this elevated status that was wholly crafted by her hard work. In the evening, Nkosinathi left for his home. It was evident that in a short space of time there was going to be another bigger meeting regarding the payment of the lobola, all that was waited by all with eager glee.

The go-between came home to give my parents a date of the great visit. I was at home again to be presented as the potential bride. It started early in the morning before sunrise when four men and two women visited our home. My father had already invited his brothers and uncles to participate in the setting up of the bride price. They were twelve altogether and were all in a jovial mood. They had been slaughtering a goat when the visitors arrived.  At about sunrise, the two parties had gathered and the introduction was done. It was the duty of my uncle, the brother to my mother, who was the master of ceremony as he was, according to tradition, neutral to both parties. My father then took over and asked for the opening of his mouth: He wanted one cow, he wanted the costs regarding my schooling compensated, that was five cattle, mixed oxen and cows, lenient, he could have demanded only cows.

He also emphasized that this should be paid at once between then and my marriage day. He then further asked for the full lobola; ten cattle also mixed cows and oxen, which was lenient of him as he could also have demanded cows only. It was the duty of my uncle to tell them that since the main lobola is determined by the fruitfulness of the bride, it was going to be paid when I had got my first baby, a sign that I am indeed fruitful, able to bare children. Even if my husband to-be was working at the RR, (Rhodesia Railways) the lobola was still very high by all standards. Of all the girls in the home I was the highest in bride price bracket because of the education I acquired, other half sisters who had married were priced less than me.  The visitors left after the main meal was offered to them.

No enthusiasm was shown on their side at all. They could not protest the high cost of the bride price, it was considered rude to do so. On their side it was somber and they were glad to have left this big weird home full of women and children and could not warm themselves up with the friendliness offered as it all seemed superficial, on the surface friendliness, a presentation of teeth over their faces.  Nothing was reminiscent of what they knew as a normal family. They had heard about polygamous families but to be confronted with one so close frightened them somehow, chaotic it seemed them. To put it blankly and to the point, they did not have those cattle to pay the overly exaggerated bride price. Bride price or not, we were well matched the two of us and we got on very well. I was fond of him and was humbled by his accommodating my home background. It was the union of two people who epitomized the fire of two love birds, to be in love is fire itself,

Umlilo, mlilo vhuthayo mlilo vhuthayo
Heha Hee
Lalelani silihlabelele ngo mlilo vhuthayo

According to the traditions, I was supposed to go and visit the in-laws to-be one weekend. I did, I went with my aunts, one a sister to my father and the other wife to my uncle who is brother to my mother. My boyfriend drove us to his home which was in Tsholotsho area as well, but further north. The welcome was warm, we were to sleep over as according to the customs of isiNdebele. We were treated as visitors in the sense of the word. There were no duties assigned to us. In the morning we were given toiletry to do and breakfast. We were just nearer to the kitchen but not allowed to get in, but the talking was within our reach. The message was eloquent and flat on our ears, "we are a small family you know we are not as big as their family." In the afternoon that Saturday, there were formal introductions done. It was the father, the mother, the Grandparents and his siblings who were four together with him, five, in sharp contrast to the number of my own siblings who were twenty seven.  

There were neighbors who came to greet us too. I wondered if I was really welcome in this family, however I did not mind much as I was already a qualified nurse at a famous hospital, Mpilo, Bulawayo. I had learnt it early from my mother that you can achieve a lot if you do not engage in these talking that provoke one to comment or remark on whatever twisted comment came on one's way, a waste of time and energy, one positive trait of growing up in a polygamous family. In the final weighing, I was sure they were not amused by my polygamous background.

Other comments that I remember from this visit were, "how do they cook for so many people every day, ingani kuse nkomponi? How do they manage hygiene and cleanliness in that chaos? Do they fill their tummies, get enough food everyday, like is our case at our home? Bayasutha pho, nxa besidla? - those dirty and naked children with mucus on their noses hanging around wanting to be seen and obviously be greeted.  Did you notice the houseflies coming from the kitchen? Those dogs! Thin dogs! imghodhoyi!  I tried to discourage my brother from marrying a girl from a polygamous home but he did not listen to me, a sign that he has already "eaten". They "feed" these girls from polygamous set ups. Ask yourself just one question, how did her mother survive her marriage? She is hut number four, number four, four! Excuse me! How did she survive the challenges that entail such an institution?

My brother has already eaten these herbs, these "love potions" from her, she comes from a polygamous set up! Ah! (Dry laugh) But "She" has to be careful otherwise she would, , , e, , , , , , of,. Those were statements and not questions that needed to be answered. Those were comments that I needed to swallow in such a special visit like mine. It was telling me a lot what kind of people I am going to live with the rest of my life! We sat there and waited for the time to leave. Indeed we left for Bulawayo with my future husband. My mother was in town when she visited me at the nurses' hostel. I did not mince any words.

 I told my mother about the family I was going to get married to. My mother cut me short, told me one thing "please be patient with the pending marriage. We cannot undo anything now, my co-wives would laugh at me if you did not marry this man." It was not the man I was going to marry that I queried but the relatives and siblings who were openly rude to me during my visit to their home. I needed to keep up appearances regarding my future establishment and kept myself from the thought of it. After all, relatives of a husband, according to the traditions of isiNdebele, are just a demanding nuisance. To ignore them and not entertaining their thought processes, those collective attributes wholly said to inflict pain on the newly married wife of their brother, is the best way forward. To answer my future in-laws was also going to heighten the value desirability, both ways it was not advisable. In this case just to be silent was enough.  

Dlala ntandane ka baba zhiya he
Dlala ntandane ka baba zhiya he
Alaye mayibabo ntandane
Nxa echola bathi uyagaya zhiya ye
Nxa echola bathi uyagaya zhiya ye
ala ye mayibabo ntandane
Nxa ehleka bathi uyantela zhiya ye
Nxa e hleka bathi uyantela zhiya ye alaye mayibabo ntandane
Sebezakuthi uyaloya zhiya ye
Sebezakuthi uyaloya zhiya ye
ala ye mayibabo ntandane
Nxa epheka pathi uyatshisa zhiya ye
Nxa e pheka pathi uyatshisa zhiya ye ala ye mayibabo ntandane
Sebezakuthi uyaloya zhiyaye
Sebezakuthi uyaloya zhiya ye alaye mayibabo ntandane
Nxa exoxa bathi uyanyeya, zhiya he
Nxa exoxa bathi uyanyeya, zhiya he
Ala ye mayibabo ntandane
Sebezakuthi uyaloya zhiya ye
Sebezakuthi uyaloya zhiya ye
Ala ye bayibabo ntandane
Nxa ebiza bathu yaqhekeza, zhiyaho
Nxa ebiza bathu yaqhekeze zhiyaho

I have often wondered at the women who answered back at such open provocations by in-laws: "Now do you want to marry your own brother, and have sex with him?" But again giving them such a feedback by answering them that way, means that you would have visibly sunk to their level of thinking, shallow thinking. One would be put into constant thinking of countering one twisted statement after the other, embroiled into negativity and small thinking. It is such massive undertones that one has to keep watch and instead present yourself with habitual expressions of a happy sister-/daughter-in-law, images of a limited and restrictive woman. Indeed, positive traits do grow in one's identity and one is able to sustain herself above all narrow confines of small minded thinking.

 Such are the appropriations in the marriages in IsiNdebele culture. The marriage counseling, however, comes in to quell such annoyance or disquiets and we are told "never ever answer such stupidity of their statements because it is wholly calculated by the new in-laws to put you to test!" It is the bar measure of your endurance, coping with impossible in-laws, relatives to your new husband. This bear-it-all, this unending discourse regarding counseling the bride-to-be produced in me a distasteful ennui. These are the cultural mores, but a potent cocktail to a young mind of a girl child, that are beginning to be irrelevant in our forever changing world. Women are beginning to question those sacrosanct mores. For argument sake, if God willing, I got a daughter, on her pre-wedding night  is she going to listen to those cultural appropriations, listen to that advice I got myself, silently and obediently without jumping up and telling the counselors that they got it wrong with her.
The logistics at home in Tsholotsho never permitted a grand wedding to take place. My mother was against it too; the fear of food poisoning is ever-present in polygamous homes. Because they would be too many people in the home, it would not be possible to control movements of those with evil intentions. When the first set of bride price was paid, it meant I was married in the traditional way. I made a free weekend to go home and say goodbye to my parents officially. It was Saturday when my father slaughtered three goats as there were many people at home, especially my aunts both from my mother and father's side, my older sisters from other co-mothers some of whom were then married had come to say farewell. They were there for a purpose, to give me marriage counseling, I was to be donned with the lenses of a married woman, advice that I was supposed to take with me to the new establishment. My mothers, all of them were absent. I was aware of what was ahead of me. It was my aunt, sister to my father who was to chair the event.

She entered the room holding a calabash full of utshwala (beer, home brew) in her hands. She gently poured some on the ground and the rest of the aunts confirmed the gesture with great laughter and ululations. The gods had spoken, the ceremony could start. She outlined the challenges I was going to face in the new establishment. Honour your father-in-law and your mother-in-law. I should never answer anybody who provokes me openly, young and old. I should be obedient, subservient to the husband all the time. Never answer a man who is your husband if he is talking-quarreling with me. If I find out he has a girlfriend, I should remember my father has six wives at home, that should never surprise me, men want more anywhere, just ignore this totally, otherwise you waste your time. Work very hard always, it pays. Think about how your mother worked so hard and she became the favorite from all the six women your father had married. Another aunt joined the chorus, she was talking about "bedroom politics.

" Make sure you have "salt" (intolwane) all the time, be given "salt" before you leave this home. This is how you use the "salt". Take a small piece of cloth, like this one put the "salt" inside and let it stay inside the "grandmother" the whole day, remove it before you go to bed and wash your "grandmother" with cold water  all the time before going to bed because you do not know when he would want you. The "salt" would remove all the water around the lining of "grandmother" so that in the act of sexual intercourse there are no watery noises heard. Remember it's an utmost embarrassment to hear them, it simply means you have become big, your "grandmother" has enlarged. Please do not embarrass yourself, that is the worst form of failure in the "bedroom politics. Remember always you have to pass there in the bedroom first, get the best marks in the bedroom activities. Everything else is management. So, be prepared for him but do not ask for sex, it does not give a good impression of a good woman, he would think you are some cheap woman, he would know when you want sex and would give you anyway without asking.

Make sure there is some cloth that you would use to wipe him soon after finishing sexual intercourse. He should never do that himself. It is your responsibility to clean him and thank him using his totem always, "e mazibuko" for the good work he has done. Even if you do not enjoy it at first, you will as time goes on. You would know where you would tickle him to make it nicer." Nobody should see that cloth you use to clean him up. Wash it together with your panties and let it dry up in a place where nobody would see it."

Another aunt was speaking again, giving some more advice, do not give your father-in-law a handshake because it is rude. Kneel down each time you give them food or water to drink. When you eat and you are finished, say thank you to your mother-in-law and father-n-law whether they are present or not present using their totems, e mazibuko for your father-in-law and e Tshabalala for your mother-in-law. When they had finished with their advice, the traditional pride was satisfied. The logic and template of the culture of the AmaNdebele people was passed on to me, otherwise a repetition of the past, a carryover, wholly and implicitly meant to be observed and revered to pass it on as time and space allows it, to keep the woman in check and in a subject position. If I got a girl child, she would be shocked out perpetual resentment. I was given presents, plenty of them, (amacansi le ngcebethu, le zitsha). I was happy for the presents. Each item was just unique, and I appreciated all of them. In part I thought I deserved better than this exit ceremony but the politics did not allow it at that point in time. I thanked them all for the advice and assured them to do my best in my marriage.

I sat there and made myself as humble as lamb, being fed with the carrot and stick cocktail, the dos and don'ts perennial advice, those cultural messages, messages that invite a woman to fear, wholly meant to domesticate, define and patrol my boundaries, imparted to me by my own kith and kin, to love him, serve him and obey him. This is how women are tamed in my society, tamed to serve the husband absolutely and irrevocably. This is the cultural template, a composite of many rules, I was supposed to absorb the first day of my marriage life. I never heard any reciprocation regarding him loving me and thanking me too for whatever best bedroom technique we may have accomplished together as a pair that day! What a waste of time! I was as sure as a cock that I was not going to do some of those things they advised me to do.

 I am an educated woman, qualified nurse in a famous hospital, Mpilo. I should have told them, "salt" is a health hazard to women in Africa who practice this. I discourage women at Mpilo for using "salt" only to be told a day before my wedding day that I should use it. This very "salt" they talk about is the cause of cervical cancer among women in the sub-Saharan region. These are the cultural messages that are an invitation to fear to a woman to take any real power and meaning away from her, leaving her a mere subordinate of the man she is marrying. There are other inherent messages that girls and young women carry with them, imparted to us from birth. You are a woman, you are inferior, you are less. However, I valued some options remaining in the counseling.

My boyfriend and I went to court to tie the knot. It was a private wedding in the sense of the word. My mother and father were present, but awkwardly seated. My mother could not bring herself to sit at the same level chair with my father, it would have meant that they were equal, which they were not. The man sits on the chair while the woman sat down on the floor. This place did not allow that sitting, here at the marriage court. It was just that one hour and it would never happen again, they may have thought, and went with it. The first wife of my father was visibly missing for whatever reason I do not know. The parents of my husband were present too, sitting harmoniously together on chairs and comfortably looking, a sign that they enjoyed an equal man and woman status in the home. Nobody seemed to protest that there is no grand wedding to bless the two.

Because such a wedding would have demanded a substantial amount of money, what my father did not have. My mother could not have coughed out any amount to finance a wedding, sending us to good schools was already enough and she was at the end phase of her energy resources. Again there was a lot of displeasure on the part of other wives in the home about the developments my mother had already displayed. The success of my mother towards her children especially, put bare the inability and incapability's of other wives, appearing as if she was the favorite of all of them put together.

Again those huts would have adversely exposed the poverty in this big home, my father's homestead. It was rich in human resources but not in terms of property wealth. We lived very basic lives and it was the output of the women that made our home tick. Apart from the groceries that my father brought home every six weeks I need to really think, what did my father do at home?  His monthly salary was largely used up in town bills he had to pay, leaving very little to send home for his six wives and numerous children. Young toddlers, five plus six of them lingered around the home naked or half-clothed just covering the front and behind and that was normal. It only became an embarrassment if there was a visitor in the home who gave a deep and disapproving look, and his/her discomfort at naked children.

They would be told to go away and play as if they are chasing dogs or chickens. (Sukanini phambu kwabantu bemzini) My father never went to plough in the fields. Hoeing, harvesting, building the huts, that was the work of the women. He was the head of the homestead and the children were born, but again to be solely looked after by their own mothers with little or nothing from the father. The next most pertinent question would be, why have so many children if you can't look after them adequately again? Why so many wives in the first place? A misplaced ego and phallic power of the African man! A full-blown wedding would even reveal too many skeletons of poverty in the home. A court wedding was just appropriate for me.
It was a big gamble to ask my husband to take my last born brother, Madoda, who was still doing his secondary education, into our new home just to ease financial challenges my parents still had and takeover whatever responsibilities regarding his schooling. He agreed. But to remove insults he asked his parent if he could look after his last born brother, Sobantu. His parents were happy about that arrangement, in hindsight a useful corrective. It augured well in a new and young family that still had no babies of their own but already were providers in their new dispensation, extended family set-ups. My brother was at the famous Mpopoma Secondary School where I completed my form six too. When he finished his sixth form he went to the University of Rhodesia to study agriculture. All four of us were a great academic success, high achievers. We had to be successful to assist our mother who worked very hard to be where we are today. We are all proud of her. She is a very proud mother too. She is a mother who later in her life cried shedding golden tears. It is only education that determines success in Rhodesia. There is no wealth from parents that one can lean on except a good academic education.

We learnt the value of education very early and we appreciated it. When we talk as siblings, we are people who are wary about big families, we are tired of big family set ups. My father has never been an example to emulate from. I doubt it if my brothers would ever think of having more than one wife. The polygamous family we grew up in traumatized all of us, worse for my brothers ever to make a repeat of it in their lives, they would never, they said. The competition among mothers that was at home makes us get detached from our half siblings, there is no love lost among ourselves, those quarrels and fist fights at emaxhibeni for whatever reason gave a silent emotional exit in our lives from them.

When one observes a polygamous family from a distance, people become very impressed by the set up, they talk and idolize what they do not know. "They look after each other, they share all that they have, they help each other in the fields, they look after each other's children if one is not well,  They are always happy and laughing" it goes on. All that is said is not true, the spectacle of emotional suffering is wholly concealed. Polygamy denigrates, reduces, insults the women, second citizens in the home, the children are the last pieces of dirt, third citizens.

The wives are literally forced to do all those cores for other women in the same marriage institute, silhouetted images of women blissfully married to their fate with unreasoned commitment to remain faithful. There is a complete disregard of the value of the woman in a polygamous home, their lives symbolize refracted personas all of them involved in the play of emotional pain enured to sustain it. It appears as if a woman has no feelings at all, but just some beast of burden obeying damning restricted choices within the institution. Polygamy provokes and evokes nostalgias of the lives lived long, long back. The economies of that time, long back, and today are very different.

The economy of our time is very demanding and to think a polygamous family can still have its relevance nowadays is a day dream. It was luck that we managed to get education but can never be our values and hopes to emulate in our lives.  We had an ambitious mother who wanted something better for her children and she worked hard to make that dream come true, that seen through retro-spectacles. My brothers and I would always make sure that when my mother starts crying it would be golden tears always she would be weeping, that is our hope and no less. It is the hope and wish of a very grateful daughter and sons! Watintu mfazi wantinti mbokodo.

Source - Nomazulu Thata: taken from the eBook 'Sweetmother'
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