It’s every girls’ socialization; grow up get married have a family, have status. One lady in Mombasa took this goal to the next level – she got married, was sadly widowed and then she got married again, to two men. Turns out, they were both determined to maintain their relationship with her even after discovering their rivalry and agreed on contract to share her as a wife. Unfortunately, one of them talked to the media about it and his part of the deal was promptly cancelled, as she chased him away.
Speaking of the Coast, I have a doctor friend who works there. She tells me how the women will come to the hospital having been in labor 3 days at home and desperately needing a caesarian section and will not consent to the procedure until “Mwenye” says it’s all right. Who is “Mwenye”? Why the guy who paid a couple of goats for you of course!
Johann Ludwig Krapf is forever credited with making the Swahili language more superfluous in the mid 19th century, but I am quite sure he never anticipated this sort of linguistic evolution of terms. Whereas the Swahili proper term for “Husband” is interpreted as “Bwana” meaning “Master” the word “Mwenye” is correctly interpreted to mean “Owner”.
Here is where some definitions are in order. In the Swahili cultural context, “Bwana”, your master does not necessarily own you; this is a person who is to be seen as a superior, in administration, in status, in politics or employment. When used by a woman to refer to her husband, the term “Bwana” indicates a close personal, romantic and sheltered protection; she is thus neither owned nor a slave but at the same time belongs to and is protected by her man.
In contrast, the term “Mwenye” is mainly a prefix, used to indicate distinct ownership of property. “Mwenye Nyumba” for instance indicates who owns a particular house.
You can imagine thus, how the usage of the term “Mwenye” in a marriage relationship connotes the sort of ownership that the man wields over the person and body of the woman, which is why she won’t consent to a much needed caesarian section unless “Mwenye” gives his permission.
Here is the thing. It’s no surprise that the moment some women get married they cease to think for themselves. Come on ladies, all of a sudden you need permission to lunch with your friends. It’s a common phenomenon, where basically the new wife supplants her independence and replaces it with fully depending on the man for every single thing. Some call this submission; I call it being infantile. This is not submissive behavior by the way, it’s a refusal to be an adult capable of handling her half of an adult relationship like the grown up she is. To be even more precise, this foolish behavior is the anti-thesis of being female, being feminine and being mature.
I say it for your own good. You don’t need to call “Mwenye” and ask him if you should consent to a life saving procedure. You don’t need his permission to eat lunch. You need to grow the hell up and behave like a grown woman because that’s who he wanted to marry.
Incidentally, my doctor pal assures me that 9 times out of 10, “Mwenye” has passed out under some coconut tree having imbibed copious amounts of Mnazi wine in celebration of his anticipated new born.
The whole “Mwenye” deal is not just about a refusal to grow up and be responsible; it’s about a power play in marriages that is quite dangerous. Let’s hope that all ladies who have a “Mwenye” and not a “Bwana” are living with a benevolent owner. It’s likely though that the willful giving of extreme power over one’s own life indicates that they most likely live with a genuine bastard.
See, when you value yourself monetarily and somebody coughs up that price, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he values you too. No. If a man is going to “buy” a wife he then can easily take liberty to treat his “property” any which way he pleases. Come on, gents, you know that is how many men behave. They treat women as less than human, creatures that are to serve them, to give them sexual pleasure and to bear their children without question. In exchange the women get to be provided for. It’s a trade off, a terrible one, but you both do it voluntarily so no judgment here.
I had this rather interesting exchange with an acquaintance – he postulated that polyandry in Kenya is “repugnant to justice”. Why? Because men should not share a wife. Also, in his view it was a mark of low self esteem for a man to share a wife.
I am leaving the legal question of polyandry’s possible “repugnancy to justice” in family law to the lawyers; I choose to deal with the psychology behind the idea of sharing a wife. If a man sees a woman as some sort of commodity he then surely will not see fit to share that which he deems his own. Same with the women who declare “I don’t share some things” when asked if they would consider polygamy.
The fact is, when you think about marriage the way most Kenyans view it, it’s about ownership. It’s about “YOU are never leaving me, you are mine.” The couple may not refer to each other as “Mwenye” and… I suppose “Mbuzi” (Goat) would be the term of endearment the man has for his wife there. The two may even call each other darling, but let’s not mistake that to mean an equal partnership of any sort.
In a relationship where there is a “Mwenye” that is called voluntary slavery or self-sale. According to Wikipedia – “Voluntary slavery (self-sale) is the condition of slavery entered into at a point of voluntary consent. This was a common way for impoverished people to provide subsistence for themselves or their family and provision was made for this in law.”
In many ways, given the economic situation in Kenya, I don’t blame women. The idea that marriage is an indentured voluntary slavery is so ingrained that women won’t think twice about the terms of the marriages they are getting into. Its part of our culture, that to save yourself from grinding poverty you will auction your daughters, it’s no wonder they refer to the buying party as “Mwenye”. Yes, we know men won’t go into the labor wards, but that doesn’t mean that you wait for him to rise from a drunken slumber and save your life. You may choose to be a slave, but a dead slave is useless. Voluntary slaves should have the brains to consider their own survival first and foremost after all. Think, ladies.