We were driving by bus from Arusha to Ngorongoro when O, the Masaï guy I sponsored, nudged me and said: “look Alina, those manyattas (huts) against the foot of the mountain. An old man is living over there with up to 148 women”. His voice sounded to my idea in awe and it was not clear to me if this came out of respect or jealousy. He told me that a polygamous Masaï man with many women was a rich man. Not because he had so many beautiful women but because he has had in its possession sufficient cows to pay the dowry. I looked at the village, the dozens of shacks close to each other and I wondered what was happening indoors. Would those women be happy or squabbling, would he divides his attention right or withdraw certain women for it? I did not yet dare to ask O by that time.
That night I slept in the bed of one of the priests from the village, which himself was absent.
O told me in the days afterwards that his father had died 7 years before and had left his mother and her children poverty-stricken. According to him his father had a preference for his first wife and every time something was going on, such as disease or famine, a cow or goat of his mother was taken and sold to pay the debt. Finally his first woman maintained all her cattle and his mother owned nothing anymore. The women tolerated each other but that was all you could say about it. After the death of his father gave the first woman or other people in village his mother a little food if it was there. His mother had a begging position. It became clear to me that O and his family were positioned at the bottom of the hierarchy within their tribe and village. And you may notice how some of my questions were easily answered.
At the end of that same trip, we were on the last day before my departure at my favorite little restaurant at the foot of Mount Meru. We drank a coke “baridi” (you really have to ask for cold coke because otherwise you can shake it). In front of my eyes was sitting a more than beautiful, very young Masaï girl with a baby in her arms. She looked totally unhappy however. Actually you may call it severely depressed. That was a remarkable sight in Tanzania because you were supposed to look happy and laugh a lot, no matter what misery occured in your life. I wonder why she suffered so clearly in public and I started to come up to her. At that time an old Masaï man popped up next to her, whom was clearly her husband. Shocked I flopped back on my chair. It is just totally silent inside me for a moment when the reason of her sad face comes to me.
O looked at me and said with understanding: “forced marriage”. “This should not be O: I said sadly. Such a girl is supposed to be with someone like you, cheerful and high-spirited. How can such an old man even want to be with a girl who will never desire him? I noticed immediately that this comment was a step too far. For Masaï is the love between husband and wife certainly not a priority in life. Also a city boy like Msafiri looked at me more then once in the past and surprised me with the words: “you are too much controlled by love”. And he had a point. Love and freedom have a kind of dual tension at the level of our personal relationships in the western world. In Africa I learned to care more about my freedom then personal feelings. I had too. When you value personal feelings much, you get abused easily as a western woman.
Masaï are not the only tribe in Tanzania known for their polygamous lifestyle. I visited Datoga Tribe at Lake Eyasi and was welcomed by 7 women who were married to the same 80 years old man. The oldest woman was 71 and the youngest was 16. This was a very unreal experience to me. Their age difference was huge, but they seemed to be very fond of each other. When I met the old man I got this dizzy feeling again when I imagined him and the 16 year old girl in one bed. As a western woman it feels like a cultural shock.
In the village of O Masaï are Christian. It took a while but generation after generation polygamy and forced marriage are discouraged by the Church. Most young people in this region who have received education are married to one woman. Also their wives are no longer needed to be circumcised. The Masaï without education depend strongly on their old traditions. Their identity and sense of value are closely connected. Very understandable because many of their lifestyle is lost but due to lack of education, they have no alternative.
That is why taking care of education for this tribe is so important; the good aspects can be preserved and the outdated traditions replaced by modern forms of Union.
I’m not against polygamy or monogamy. But in Tanzania it is very difficult for women to get equal rights as long as polygamy dominates. That system keeps them below it. For a healthy polygamous relationship it is necessary that both men and women have equal value within their relationship and culture. So If you want to support a particular initiative to provide education for the more poor children of the community in Ngorongoro, please do not hesitate to contact us because education works!
For support of the dream school in Ngorongoro read more and contact us: https://mindfuladventure.nl/contact/
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