• Stories of wives finding their sisters or besties seducing their man are all too common
I have been contemplating the phrase kikulacho kiknguoni mwako for a while now. As a child learning the proverb in school, it hardly made sense to me, but as an adult, the phrase is like a life mantra. The idea that those who seek to destroy you are closer to you than you would think is terrifying but real.
Everywhere you turn seems like there is a real-life cautionary tale of those who have been betrayed by people closest to them. The same people who would lend you an ear during your troubles or those you would lean on for support turn out to be more evil than your worst enemies.
During my internship some time in 2010, there was an alarming rise in sister co-wives cases. At the office, we would turn on Maina and King’ang’i or Busted and listen to the shockingly entertaining stories. Most cases had similar plots: they would be married sisters who were doing well in the big cities. When they had babies, they would bring their sisters from upcountry to help with the kids with the promises of putting them through college. Before long, the unmarried sister would become pregnant and the wife would be shaken to find out it was her husband’s child.
At the office, we would break down these stories, share anecdotes and even debate on the absurdities of such situations. For the life of me, I could not fathom how one would betray a blood sister for a man with money. A wise Legal department woman said something that would end up staying with me forever. She said, “When you friends or sisters see your husband treating you well, buying you a car and everything nice, they don’t think, ‘I want a man like that.’ They think, ‘I want that!’”
It has become the norm to warn young girls getting into marriage about the dangers of friendships. Women who have ‘best friends’ they confide in about their marriages or welcome them graciously into their marital homes are likely to be betrayed by those very people.
Take Asyah* (not her real name), for instance. Asyah was married to a well-off man in the early 1980s. Asyah had a best friend, Fatou, whom she was incredibly close to and loved more than any of her sisters. Asyah refused to heed the warning of others who told her not to trust her friend so much, but Asyah never imagined Fatou would hurt her. A year into Asyah’s marriage, she found out Fatou was her husband’s second wife. 40 years later, the two women are still co-wives, their children were raised side by side, but the two women have hardly spoken since.
Stories like these are not just cautionary tales. They are as real as daybreak after a long night. They are happening within our own circles, we see it every day. In my own extended family, there is a distant relative who is known for coveting her relatives’ husbands. As a result, people have shunned her and kept her as far away from their personal lives as they possibly can. It is not just in my relations, I know for a fact many families go through the same awkward situation.
While polygamy might be allowed in many African cultures, the thought of having a co-wife is not as painful as that of being a co-wife to a beloved person from your inner circle. A betrayal by a family member or friend is more painful than a knife to the chest.
Many argue the issue is the philandering husband and that the wife should take up the matter with him. The main discussion I am trying to get across is of morality and loyalty. Our siblings and female relations are among the first people we learn to rely on. Friendships that have stood the test of time are also considered sisterly bonds. For those bonds to be broken off so lightly because of a man is completely unjustifiable.
I know of many women who find it easy to break off a marriage and walk away from the man without a second thought. However, the pain of being betrayed by a sister or a close friend is one they will carry on for the rest of their lives.