Monday, 6 October 2014

I Wish Vows Were Enough When it Comes to African Marriage

I Wish Vows Were Enough When it Comes to African Marriage

 While women today enjoy a bucketful of rights compared to our great grandmothers in centuries gone by, I really look to the day when we can ‘freely’ initiate marriage. 

Honestly, it eats my heart out to see women occupying the second class seat when it comes to making nuptial decisions. Especially in the African culture; where most (if not all), demands a hefty commercial transaction from the groom-to-be for marriage to happen. 
  
And since women are a ‘piece of goods’, their voices have been suppressed when it comes to making nuptial decisions.  

As a black woman myself (with my culture saying that my boyfriend ought to drive a herd of cattle to my village in order for us to live as a husband and wife), I find it uncomfortable to bring up the topic because he is just not financially ready for the move. I really hate to hear the answer: I don’t have enough money yet to buy you, because that’s what “I am not financially ready” means.  
  
Am I a piece of furniture? 
  
With the commercialism of the institution, my lips are tied. I wish I could just propose to him and go ahead with the paper work, but society won’t give me a break if I opt for that. 

I will be branded the ‘other’, and very desperate that I gave myself for ‘free’! I just wish vows would be enough. 
  
While it is wonderful that in my part of the world today I can choose who to marry, unlike the mother of my mother’s mother who was forced into matrimonial bed without any choice at all, I believe culture should let love lead. 

And yes compared to the woman next door who endured the struggle of raising her children alone because ‘he was not the one’ as he was not man enough to pay 20 beasts, I really wish culture would stop ‘overpricing’ women. 
  
I never used to be a big fan of marriage myself, largely due to what I perceived as inequities in the whole arrangement. I hated the idea of giving up my family name for one I just came across in adult life, as most African customs dictate. 
  
It sounded so unfair - letting go of my identity; the name I struggled so hard to spell in Grade 1.  I then decided that marriage wasn’t my thing. 

I knew little about double barrel surnames then, and that a woman may just decide to keep her maiden name legally married. Besides, that was unheard of in those days. 
  
This thing called culture though is so hard to break. I have heard endless stories and gossip about such women who either go the double barrel way or just stick to their family names.  

They are subjected to all sorts of negative stereotypes.  Some of the accusations hauled at them are that they are not wholeheartedly into the marriage, that they think they are big and do not want to drop the supposed ‘brands’ they have built, that they are selfish, that they are disregarding lobola and that they don’t have respect for their spouses!  
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As my world opened up, I got intrigued and tell you what, I so want to get married. I want to walk down the aisle and sing ‘I Do, I Do’. I am so ready for it. 

As for the name issue, I have made up my mind that change is good. I like the sound of my new surname to bits! However, there is a problem. Culture says my boyfriend is just not ‘man enough’ for this rite of passage. 

He does not prefer the knot loose but it remains so because he does not have the financial muscles to tie it! That’s what unwritten societal codes of practice are saying to him. 
  
See, culture again! Still culture remains a huge stumbling block – lobola, and not to mention hosting the whole village to dine and drink off his (and mine as well, though society has made it a man’s task alone) pocket! 

Honestly I don’t want to feed the whole town as a way of showing everyone that I am married. No! Please may we lessen our expectations and stop all the talk about food and alcohol at people’s wedding celebrations. 
  
I keep on indirectly mentioning my readiness for wedlock to my boyfriend. I can’t just be blunt and ask That Question because as a black woman I got to respect my culture whether it’s a leap year or not. 

That’s how negatively stereotypical the African culture is towards women. I hear in some parts of Europe women have that privilege of proposing provided the month of February goes up to the 29th day. 
  
Fair enough that I can’t be chained on the bed of a man I distaste, a horrid experience that black women and many others in societies where matters of the heart were not left to two individuals (sadly it still happens in some part of the world); I yearn for the liberation of women in the institution of marriage. 
  
Can women be allowed to initiate marriage without being labelled ‘desperate’, can we choose to keep or not to keep our family names without undergoing societal crucifixion? 

Can African culture be dynamic enough and lower lobola charges because really this thing is keeping most potential husbands’ hands off marriage? 

Putting a price to a woman is objectification; it’s commerce at its most high.  
  
I like my freedom very much - all of it. It disheartens me that I have not enjoyed much financial freedom. Marriage and wedding celebrations in most African contexts come at an exuberant price tag.  

But, to all of those waiting out there to ‘measure the success of my marriage’ narrowly on the how much money I splash on the wedding gown, the ring, the food and alcohol as well as the venue - please forget it. I am making these choices wholly based on my interests, preferences and the weight of my wallet. 
  
I can’t wait for 2016.  If it hasn’t happened yet, then I will just have to do it myself. 

My most important lobola is ready: “I promise to give you hope when there is sorrow, strength in weakness, faith and understanding when there is confusion or doubt”. I wish! 

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