Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Letter from Butiama: Married life in the village

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 15th May 2005.

When an old man of the Zanaki ethnic group approaches his home after dark, he begins to sing at the top of his voice his kibanziko, a song usually sung when an old man has had more than enough to drink, and whose purpose is to alert everyone, from as wide an area as possible, that the head of the household is returning home. Any man at the house who cannot satisfactorily justify his presence will know it is time to leave, quickly. Every old man his his kibanziko.

No self-respecting elder of the Zanaki tribe will be caught sneaking upon his wife trying to catch her in the act of committing adultery. It is behaviour that is frowned upon.

Ginga Kihanga, 93 years old, told me elders 'scare' away 'intruders' rather than risk confrontation that may lead to serious injury or even death.

This does not mean, however, that no one was caught in the act in the past. During colonial times,* those who were caught were humiliated in public, stripped naked, lashed by strokes, and made to pay a fine of two cows. The exception was when the Chief was the complainant; he was free to impose any fine.

The kibanziko serves another purpose. Kihanga said normally acts of adultery were committed in the bush, some distance from the matrimonial home. The biggest insult that any Zanaki man can suffer is catching the pair at his house, so, in fact, the singing is aimed at preventing what otherwise can be a huge embarrassment in the community.

It is likely that this leniency stems from the old tradition of arranged marriages. Young men were married to young women because their parents said so, not because they wanted. However, before parents concluded the marriage arrangements, the newly-weds would already have had separate relations with other partners. And it is probably in suspecting that the newly-weds were likely to retain some attachment to their pre-marriage partners that Zanaki society came up with a safety valve called kibanziko, to give room to old lovers by minimizing the risk of confrontation with the husband.

Normally the kitungo was someone's first choice in marriage, but had to be set because of the arranged marriage. Since arranged marriages were compulsory, they only succeeded in bringing together two individuals who had no affection for each other. Consequently, relations between the two were more like those of adversaries than partners. The man ordered around; the woman, within limits, remained relatively stubborn. Relief was sought in one's kitungo.

As with many other traditions, the kibanziko is also falling victim to the passage of time. Today, the young arrive at their homes in the evenings unannounced. I also suspect they cannot sing as well as the elderly.

Who can blame them? In most songs that young people listen to nowadays, the 'singers' rarely sing, they spend more time talking.

Related post:

*Before 1961

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