A few weeks ago, the ladies of The Chama and I hosted Judy Thongori to discuss the proposed marriage bill. I had been thinking about it for a while but I finally decided exactly how I feel about it; and specifically the contentious issue of polygamy.
My brother is getting married and his 'itara' was last Saturday. As we were planning it, my father mentioned that he was encountering a unique conversation where when he invited his male cousins and other members of the family, he was not sure which ‘house’ to extend the invitation to because while they started off in monogamous marriages, they were now polygamous.
A friend who was helping me pointed out that in her family, they invite the man and then he decides which ‘house’ to bring. She then mentioned an uncle who always brings the kids from ‘house one’, occasionally wife two but most likely wife three.
It took me back to a statement that Thongori made about women who have been ‘married for decades’ but have no place in the antiquated system that we inherited from our colonialists.
Let’s face it, we are polygamous. So much so that when I say to people that my parents have been married for over 35 years and I believe that my father has been faithful, people tilt their heads to the right and pat my shoulder or arm like I am retarded, and I can almost hear them thinking "aaaawww honey…"
To most of us, the idea that a man would be faithful to one woman for decades seems ludicrous, and those who believe in it or expect it are thought to be unrealistic, willfully naive or obstinately optimistic brides.
The laws of a country are supposed to let people know how to live and give legal recourse when then law is broken. As such there should be a real indication of what that society looks like. In a country with 42 tribes, law making is difficult because we all have such different values. Stealing a cow from a Maasai and stealing one from a Luo are very different enterprises. Sure, both cows are property, but for the Maasai, a cow is much more than an animal or property. In December of last year, I met a Maasai elder who has many wives and over 100 children and all this man wanted from us was a picture with his prized bull.
The proposed marriage bill excites me because finally a family unit that exists in all our tribes will be recognised. Children from the third wife can now say, "I am Kamau’s child from his third wife" without shame or embarrassment, whether they are in Peponi School or some two-roomed high school in El Jororok. Right now as the law stands, the child in Peponi feels like he is calling his mother a mistress and he lives with the insinuation that his nuclear family should not exist. Psychologically, this insinuation that a child's home is a secret or something to be embarrassed about bears many negative rewards like insecurity, promiscuity and lack of confidence.
Frankly, it is the law that needs to expand to recognise a Kenyan family unit that has been with us for eons and seems to be going nowhere. We have shown, through how we live, that polygamy is not antiquated, simply a fact on the landscape of Kenyan marriages.