Who’s scared….of a few taboos?

Zimbabweans are generally a conservative lot and although we belong to different tribal groupings – there is a lot of commonality in our customs and beliefs especially in the area of sex education.

There was a time, I dare say, when people took pride in the sexual ignorance of young people; equating such naivety on sexual matters with chastity and sexual purity.

"..its taboo for a girl to have sex before marriage because it will break her mother's back" - Venda culture

The less a young person knew about sex and where babies come the more commendable they were for demonstrating that they were not inclined towards “naughtiness”.

In fact where ignorance about sex could not be imposed; our elders in their wisdom crafted clever lies to strike the fear of sex into the tender hearts and nubile bodies of the youth.

These clever lies are some of our Zimbabwean taboos drawn from various tribes and cultures and this post is written to remind us of them and to ask (tongue in cheek) – Who’s scared of a few taboos?

Who remembers the time when young girls were taught (and they believed these teachings) that:

Do not let a boy play with your breasts; because they will grow as big as pumpkins.
Do not have sex with boys; because you will develop pseudo-pregnancies
Do not look at the private parts of somebody; or else you will grow a boil on the eyelid.
Do not engage in sexual intercourse otherwise your sexual organs will turn into a frog or a chameleon.
Do not indulge in sex or else your sexual organs will move to your forehead.
Do not play with boys because you will fall pregnant.
A girl should not indulge in premarital sex because her parents will suffer from backache.

As a rule of thumb, human private parts were not to be exposed or looked at and the manner in which girl children sat was strictly monitored to ensure that their sitting posture did not expose their private parts.

Girls were always reminded to ‘sit properly’.

And of course the elders went to all the trouble of concocting these lies just to preserve the virginity of girls that “priceless” commodity tucked neatly between our legs. (Do I sound a bit irreverent?)

...no chastity belt required if your family can just 'lock' you with medicines and concoctions...aah - you gotta love the potency of African magic!

This brings me to the irksome topic of virginity testing since the virginity of girls was closely guarded as a matter of family honor and pride.

In some tribes, virginity tests were conducted randomly and usually the venue for these inspections was the river.

Some tribes relied on shaming the deflowered girls. If you failed the virginity test and it was discovered that you had been deflowered; you were made to carry a half-full clay water pot to your home as a sign to your mother that you’d been deflowered *cringe*.

Other tribes employed scare tactics to force a confession from a deflowered girl and this would involve asking the ‘suspect’ to suckle someone else’s baby. A virgin would not refuse but a deflowered girl would immediately confess and refuse because taboo had it that if a deflowered girl suckled a baby – the baby would fall sick and die.

Then there were the more hectic tribes that employed some really mysterious tactics to ensure that the girls’ prized virginity was not tampered with.

The families would simply “doctor” their daughters and the girls would have no idea that they were “fenced” such that when a young man had sex with them that young man’s stomach and genitals would swell (I kid you not!).

To avoid dying, the culprit would have to confess to the girl’s father ask for forgiveness, be cured by the girl’s further before being forced to marry that girl and be banned from having sex with any other woman and if he refused, he’d die.

Yeah…so that’s a bit on our Zimbabwean taboos and I know some of them will be considered outmoded because no young person these days will buy into these taboos but it’s always nice to reflect on the wisdom of old and acknowledge – they had a good thing going before modernity in the form of the internet, Google, TV and porn magazines ruined it!

An African woman’s right ….to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

As the campaign for the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence kicks off – I have found myself pondering on the acceptability and tolerance of women bashing that is inherent in African cultures.

Women get beaten for the flimsiest of reasons as men seek to demonstrate their domination over them – and even with offenses that are regarded as being grave such as unfaithfulness – it is impossible for me to embrace the idea that laying a hand on a woman is justified.

...kutshaywa imali ye club hatshi umfazi!

I know there are men who have never, who would never, and who can never ever lift a finger to hit a woman. The thought is repulsive to them, alien and completely divorced to their mental software.

My brother is one of them. The father of my child is another one. A number of my male friends also come to mind and several men I have known along the journey of life.

It makes me wonder then: if beating women up comes ‘naturally’ with acquiring the status of ‘manhood’ – why are there so many decent male human beings who are not inclined towards violence against women?

In embracing the concept of “Africanness” how does one reconcile these barbaric tendencies with the most rudimentary notions of justice, of fairness, of respect, of the recognition of women’s humanity and dignity?

I was appalled some weeks ago when a Zimbabwean man who had been hauled before a court overseas shamelessly admitted that he had beaten up his wife and excused his disgusting conduct by stating that this sort of violent interaction with women was “common” where he comes from and basically “normal”.

...you don't have to face what you can turn your back on

Of late the media has been awash with the objectionable reports of men beating up their wives for all manner of flimsy reasons – ranging from acquiring a new cellphone, to not answering one’s cellphone, to why the cellphone was switched off at night or why it got lost or misplaced and other absurd contentions.

Gender-based violence is about exercising dominance; it is about the social constructs regarding the worth, the place, the value and the “ownership” of a woman by a man.

Most women derive a sense of worth and value from being “claimed and owned” by a man in the form of matrimony – they don’t regard marriage as a partnership but rather they see it as an opportunity to serve, to obey and to endure.

By internalizing these normative patriarchal values; women become more vulnerable to violence and abuse because they fail to assert themselves in relationships in a way that ensures that the men they share their lives and bodies with do not exercise undue control over them.

...don't surrender your life over to someone else's control

But why do men beat up women?

Culture: some people say it is socialization they’ve been told it is an appropriate demonstration and expression of manhood to beat up women, especially wives because wives are their matrimonial “property”.

Upbringing: some people argue that men who abuse women watched their own fathers or male role models beat up women and now merely repeat, re-enact and replay the script they memorized in childhood.

Inadequacy: other people assert that men who are violent have a sense of inadequacy and derive some measure of self-assertion when they display violence, instil fear and physically exercise dominance over those they know are mostly powerless to defend themselves or retaliate – women.

Masochism: some people are just pre-disposed to evil and gain immense satisfaction in inflicting pain on those they perceive to be weaker than they are and these kinds of people go beyond inflicting physical harm to the cruelty of emotionally, mentally and psychologically tormenting another person because it makes them feel powerful to destroy the confidence of another.

So what can women do?

This year; I am inclined to urge women to do the only thing they can do when faced with an abuser – flee! You can’t change somebody else – you can only change how you react to them.

Walk away – keep walking and don’t you dare go back to him. Walk away and start anew. Walk away and live again. Walk away and believe in your humanity – believe that you’re human too and that you deserve better.

...don't stay with someone who makes you feel bad about feeling good

Believe that you too, have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Parting shot: The role of the female species is to pick the right mate. The wrong males are supposed to be barred from mating and procreating. Nature didn’t intend human females or females from any other species to “fix” deficient males; we’re just supposed to reject them so they don’t pass on their bad genes – Elizabeth, thoughtsopinionrants Blog

…shame in our veins

It rained the day he died. It rained the day we buried him.

Pouring in torrents; it shielded us from the prying eyes of nosy neighbors who speculated for weeks and months later on whether the wetness on our faces was caused by tears or raindrops.

They would never know; because it rained the day we left the village.

The thunder drowning out the sounds of our footsteps and the rain incessantly pelting the path to wash our footprints away – no one would know where we went or what direction we took.

So it should not come as a surprise that when we chose a new identity, a new name for ourselves we chose to name ourselves after the rain – it had been our ally and Mother Nature had seen it fit to see us off by drenching us to wash away any trace that lingered of who we once were.

But even the rain cannot wash away the stubborn stain of the shame he smeared us with and no amount of rain can drown the memories of that humiliation.

We sought to deny his existence by stripping ourselves of his name and hoped that with time our children would forget him, cease to ask question we had no answers to.

For who were we to tell our children of the man whose loins they had come from? Who were we to mar their lives by speaking of such abominations?

For no matter how far we have fled, we cannot outrace the legacy of disgrace apportioned on us by that man.

There are reminders everywhere of the damage he has wrought, of the ignominy of it all.

For we see traces of him in the children we bore and against our will, we see traces of him even in ourselves. We feel the shame coursing through our veins, our blood forever carrying the taint.

How can we speak of him? He was our father, no, in truth he was a monster. He was a man who fed off his own flesh and blood, forcing himself upon our reluctant nubile bodies, while mama turned a blind eye to his beastly proclivities.

It was guilt that kept her silent, her failure to bear him sons making her take the blame for his behavior – in her warped mind; mama really believed that sacrificing us would appease him.

For in our village, even the barren woman received more sympathy than the woman whose womb could produce nothing but girls – it was believed that such a womb deformed the seed of a man making it virtually impossible for even the most virile man to father a son.

But with time, when our bodies began to bud attempting to blossom into womanhood, he had begun his nightly pilgrimage to our hut – tearing us apart and crushing us beneath the bulky weight of his manhood.

The silent tears we shed in the dark were our only reproach to him and mama’s compliant silence was deafening in its echo.

how do you plead?

...does our womanhood obscure our humanity?









Standing before the jury of life
They’ll ask in voices dead
And indifferent –
Are you the washer of clothes,
The tiller of fields
The fetcher of wood
And the cook bending over the fire
And how do you plead
I plead woman, woman as charged!

Kneeling in obeisance
Before the altar of patriarchy
They will ask –
Are you the bearer of children
The suckler of infants
The raiser of mankind
And the keeper of home fires
To this how do you respond
I plead woman, woman as charged!

Lying prostrate before
The edifice of culture
They will demand to know –
Are you the keeper of silence
The longsufferer of wrongs
The beast of burden
The slave of all who are male
And how do you plead
I plead woman, woman as charged!

The verdict is in
The shackles made of tradition
The cells forged by stereotype
We pronounce you woman
Sentence you to a lifetime
Of subjugation, of oppression and inferiority
You one of us but less than us
What have you to say for yourself
I plead human, HUMAN like you!

(in cognizance of the 16 Days against Gender Violence campaign)