So, the elections have come and gone, and yes, the better man won (let’s have one minute of gloating). Moving on…
As I write this, my sister’s traditional marriage is taking place outside. We have argued, fought, fed our guests, danced, and I have left them to carry on with the partying, and the haggling for money, food and the drunkenness. As usual, I have to fight very hard to contain my disgust.
Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of tradition I quite like and enjoy. But truth is, most so-called traditional things are chauvinism, superstition and commercialism thinly veiled. And yes, that last part – commercialization is probably the part I find most irritating. The commercialization of marriage in most parts of Africa. Especially the culture of the woman’s family treating marriage as a time of repayment for all the money and effort invested in the child until that time.
I know that some of the supposed elite among us claim to have evolved and do not view women as chattel and believe in equality. But I do not care what level of education you have achieved, or how much you mouth off about equality, so long as you think this way, so long as you either vigorously or passively support a culture that continues to view women as something that always belongs to a man, from her father to her husband, you are equally complicit. And while you might not acknowledge that you think this way, even to yourself, if you regard these customs as something other than the destructive blights on our dignity that they are, shame on you.
Let me use my family as example. I love my father to death, and I respect him. But I will not lie, whenever we have a marriage in the family, my sisters almost have to restrain and gag me. My father is a highly educated man – he is both a doctor and a lawyer, can you beat that! He raised us to be strong, independent women. But whenever he is confronted with anything tradition, he comes close to becoming a simple, simpering so and so, almost unrecognizable from the man I know. I watch him with something akin to horror as he intones, ‘…our tradition states that…’ and I wonder what our fate is as a people, when his example echoes throughout society; when otherwise intelligent, exposed and accomplished people whom you would expect to be more forward thinking and help pull us out of the mire we are in resort to such simple-mindedness. Just like Christians lose all logic and common sense in the face of ‘the bible said’, the average Nigerian cowers in the face of ‘our tradition says.‘
Now, if you asked my father if he thought he was selling off any of his daughters, he would deny it vehemently. He might even quote for you our dowry which is very little, around one dollar. However, couched in the folds of tradition are the endless demands made by the family of the bride. Recently, I discovered something called ‘labour fee.’ This is supposed to be money the family gets in return for labouring to raise their daughter – the future wife of somebody. We had an argument with my dad over the figure he set for this labour fee for my sister and while he said, INSISTED that he wasn’t selling her, and he raised her out of love, duty and obligation, here is the analogy that spewed forth from his mouth…
‘if you are selling a car, you know very well that you will not get the amount you name so you have to name something higher expecting the buyer to bargain and beat the price down.’
Yup, my dad said that. I nearly threw up. Fast forward to earlier today. An argument ensued between my dad and my sister’s (the bride’s) mother’s family. We are half-sisters. Since the parents of the bride are not married (or even if they were), and I quote my dad-
‘…I am entitled to 70% of the labour fee. The mother is claiming that she is the one that raised the girl. But listen to me, tradition stipulates that even though I never contributed one Naira to the upbringing of the child, I get my 70% and the mother gets 30%!.’
The unfairness of this is so mindboggling I feel claustrophobic for a moment. And how is every single woman not enraged? We just voted out an incumbent president, don’t tell me there is no power in numbers!
First, if this money is labour fee, is it only female children that are laboured for? Because again using my family as an example, add all the seven girls, I doubt the money would come up to the money that has been spent on the one boy! If you ask me, the woman who is marrying my brother should be the one paying labour fee to my father. Again, if this money truly is labour fee, then shouldn’t it be a higher percentage for the person who LABOURED most for the child? How does the man then, whatever his contribution, waltz in, and as a sperm donor even if nothing more, lay claim to the lion share?
See, if I ever get to this bridge, they will have to stuff my ears and sedate me, because I will make one very terrible and bitter bride. And if care is not taken, I will ask my father, do you want to be paid off? Because seriously, if I pay you for raising me, then we are fucking done. Done. I don’t owe you shit anymore. How about that?
I have long made my peace with the fact that this is not a war I will win. But it does not make me any more accepting. We will continue to talk about these things and hopefully little by little, cause people to come out of the funk of insidious tradition and one day even if not in my lifetime, all this nonsense will be a thing of the past.
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