MARRIAGE VOWS AND BROKEN PROMISES
I once heard the comment that political promises are much like marriage vows.
They are made at the beginning of the relationship between candidate and voter, but are quickly forgotten.
Whatever your views on the subject, it appears that violations of the oath “for better, for worse” makes individuals more exposedtoday than in the days of traditionally arranged marriages.
The commitment undertaken in the marriage ceremony creates an impression that spouses will really go the extra mile to defend the union.
The sad fact is though that 80% of people who are left in the cold when the ‘oath’ is pushed into oblivion to allow individuals to discover ‘who they really are,’ are women and children.
And despite the many laws on the shelf designed to be the watchdog for the institution of marriage, they remain the most vulnerable.
Before we go to the case study for this week, I would like to share some relationship dynamics of family life that were practiced barely half a century ago in the Kalanga tradition.
There was this myth that women were to be ‘parked’ and marked as ‘obsolete’ at post menopausal age when the man would find a younger woman approved by “bawosi”(the first wife).
Then traditional dating that included occasional visits by the younger woman bringing love gifts called “makunele,” could be introduced for as little as a calabash of traditional beer and a live chicken with which to entertain the lover.
Then “bawosi” would conveniently absent herself from the old man’s bedroom and this would lead to her becoming wife number two at some later ceremony.
Archaic and probably distasteful as this may sound in modern day Botswana, the positive thing about it was that there was transparency and honesty.
There was a clear script with regard to the roles that individuals had to play and emotional boundaries were well drawn out.
These women were in complete control of their resources and there was no ‘cheating’ involved.
Today it sometimes seems as ifacquiring a marriage certificate provideslittle more than the ‘security’ to cheat. Discuss!
With that thought in mind let me take you to this week’s case study to demonstrate how unsuspecting individuals can be disempowered and humiliated when the matrimonial oath in broken.
MMA TEBOGO’S STORY
It was one of those days in which the customary court receives a truckload of elderly people dressed with the traditional small blanket and pin and carefully escorting a mournful figure in a bigger blanket as if to protect her from the curious eye of the public.
It transpired that the group, which consisted of three families, had come to seek reconciliationin a matter concerning the burial ceremony of a man who had deserted his wife and children for more than a decade.
The Chief Mourner was MmaTebogo, a tearstained figure with headscarf tied in a fashion that declared, as a badge sorrow, her bereavement.
MmaTebogo had entered into civil marriage with RraTebogo some 15 years ago.
Theirs was a perfect union until her man got transferred to a small town where he met a lady he had gone out with during their TireloSechaba days and fathered her first child.
After that visits to his family reduced gradually until finally all that was left was formal consultations when their children were unwell or were getting married.
Rra Tebogo’s absence from home stretched for nearly 10 years until he met with a tragic accident that abruptly ended his life.
As tradition would have it for the final rights and burial RraTebogo’s body had to be brought to the home he had been reluctant to visit for all those years.
The family had come to seek consultation and resolution concerning MmaTebogo’s denial of the ‘other’ woman the right to come to her home with her children and sit in as a mourner.
The bereaved wife was adamant that this “snake,” as she called her rival, had done enough damage and her appearance at the funeral would serve no purpose except to the get the tongues of villagers gossiping ceaselessly.
She declared that she and her children needed peace,which for a long time had eluded them because of the presence of the other woman.
MmaTebogo also added that RraTebogo had been a church elder and dragging this other woman to the burial process would simply destroy her late husband’s dignity.
It was not a view entirely shared by family members,including MmaTebogo’s own, who felt strongly that she was simply splitting hairs unnecessarily by imposing a punishment even on innocent children of the other woman who had known RraTebogo as “papa.”
RraTebogo’s elderly brother MalolmePitsowas amongst the negotiating team.
He had given the impression that he was not only witty but he was a highly diplomatic old man who could negotiate well on behalf of the “snake.”
He spoke in a soft but convincing tone declaring that RraTebogo was the last of his siblings and he would like his burial to be carried out peacefully.
When MmaTebogo attempted to interrupthis flow, it only served to trigger the old man’s anger.
Malome Pitso lost his cool, agitation clearly showing amongst the wrinkles of his aged brow as he declared: “ My brother is not the first person nor will he be the last to break these silly vows where people commit themselves to a lifestyle they cannot sustain.
“Kana ebile tota nnake oswa jaana a go tlhadile wena o setse ka ring fela” (meaning, As a matter of fact my brother had divorced you – all you have to left to show is your ring).
But MmaTebogowould not be bullied.
The old man’s stinging words only toughened her resolve.
Through tightened lips she told the assembled gathering: “If that snake wants to participate in the burial she can go to the High Court and obtain an order.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE TO JUDGE?
POINTS TO CONSIDER
- MmaTebogo was recognized by law and family as the wife of the deceased and the right person to perform burial rights.Considering the pain and humiliation she suffered as a result of her husband’s unfaithfulness she was justified to be hard towards the other woman.
- MmaTebogo and RraTebogo had married in community of property and it is right to assume that as RraTebogo decreased his attention on the wife he also diverted family resources to support the new family.
- The elders whose compassion and love never seem to dry out think that it is only fair for the other woman and children to come and be one with the entire family (in the spirit of Botho)
- MmaTebogo felt strongly that if she extended any gesture of botho towards the woman she likened to a reptile, she would be legitimizing her relationship with RraTebogo and she was not ready to do that.
Surprisingly it was the brother of the ‘other woman’ who seemed to agree with MmaTebogo,who finally resolved the issue.
He stood up to say on behalf of his sister he would like to withdraw the request that his nephews and their mother be allowed to join in the burial of their father. In closing the matter he directed his words to MalomePitso saying: “Mme RrePitsoitsingfaditlogolotsameelebanabalona”) meaning, Remember that my nephews are your kinsmen).
LESSONS TO LEARN
It is quite obvious from this case study that we are a society deeply caught up in traditional patterns of behaviour.
As such modern trends can be perceived as the cause of great pain and sadness when children who have called a man “dad” for 10 years are shocked to discover that they may not openly mourn him.
One man’s perceived right to be the master of his choice should not make victims of the ones left behind by his decision.