Women’s lib. Not in Zimbabwe. It’s a man’s world in this African country, our safari group learned during a “Learning and Discovery” session. Polygamy is widely practiced there as it is in many African countries. To tell us all about it: Mafuka, 74, who has three wives and 10 children.
“Our wives never say they have a headache,” the jolly Zimbabwean told us. He went on to describe his family life. We were mesmerized. It was entertaining, fascinating – and somewhat unbelievable.
Mafuka, a burly sort with an infectious smile, has been a safari guide for some 50 years, often away from his village and wives for months at a time. He has a farm, grows tobacco and corn; and has livestock, chicken, cows, etc. The wives and children work the fields and tend to the animals.
He explained that his first wife requested a second wife to help with the chores. “She invited her cousin, a beautiful girl. I agreed.” For five years, he had just two wives.
As he tells it, the two decided a third wife was needed. He took a third wife, but they did not like her. “They teamed up against her,” he said. “Women in our society are very strong. I got rid of her,” he announced matter-of-factly. Some time later, he found a replacement. New wife number three is a nurse, but it’s the first wife who is always in charge.
According to Mafuka, whose grandfather had 15 wives, before taking a wife, a man must prove his manhood and impregnate a woman. The baby stays with the mother and her family, but the father may later adopt the child. If a wife cannot conceive, she arranges for a sister or cousin to bear her husband’s child which she will raise. If a man has later difficulties (infertility), he secretly asks a brother or cousin to impregnate his wife.
It was all a bit much for us to comprehend. Was he putting us on? Change and progress have come to Africa, and certainly this scenario does not apply to all?
I wanted to know more. “After long periods away from home, how do you satisfy all these women?” I asked.
“I drink a root preparation,” he proclaimed, beaming. “It makes me very strong. I go home with rhino horns.”
What if one of his wives would decide to take another man? ”I would kill him,” he boasted.
Mafuka went on to proudly relate that three of his ten children have degrees. He wanted to send one of his daughters to the university, “but she eloped as the fourth wife of a guy still in college… He hasn’t paid me in cows yet. I am going to go after him.”
The family is of utmost importance in Africa, and big families are common. At our camp in Zambia, there was a booklet with staff bios. One man had 12 children with two wives. Several had nine children each. Mafuka told us about the upcoming family reunion that he was organizing. He expected 1,000 guests.
While there are many families like Mafuka’s, monogamy is gaining followers. Sally, a young married woman working at our camp, said she would not accept sharing her husband with another wife. “It’s a controversial subject,” she said. “A man may have just one wife, but many mistresses. I think it will change. Women are getting stronger.”
Another woman told me that Africa is changing. “Women now wear pants, but they still sit on the floor.”
That was the case when we visited a family home in a village. All the women sat on the floor, the men — and we — in chairs.
The village/family visit was another Learning and Discovery event. The village, Bhangale, was actually a homestead of 434 people who live in a cluster of huts with a communal outhouse and outdoor shower. Our hosts, Fransica Lambani and her husband Philippe, are the homestead owners. They live in a cement house which was a gift from their children. “They are lucky,” our guide Abiot said. “They have two sons working in South Africa. They had the money for the house.”
Prior to visiting the village, we went to a nearby town where we visited a supermarket and bought food supplies to offer the villagers as a gift. They welcomed us with song and dance, proudly showed us their homes – all neat and tidy. A woman gave a demonstration of how they carry heavy loads on their heads.
More song greeted us as we arrived to visit a Catholic primary school which has about 800 pupils. The school is in a rural area, and most all the children walk to school, from three to 10 kilometers one way.
The principal led us to a sixth grade classroom where we had a chance to talk to the youngsters. They are taught 12 different subjects, including agriculture and HIV/AIDS, their teacher told us. An 11-year old told me he wanted to study world economics. All were eager to pose for photos, and then see the photos on the camera or phone screens.
Education in Zimbabwe used to be free, but now parents must pay $45 per child per year. Education is considered essential and Zimbabwean are considered among the best educated in Africa. According to Zimbabwean Abiot, who pays school tuition for four of his nieces and nephews, Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa.
While this school was Catholic, not all the children are Catholic. Religion is very important in the African countries we visited: Catholicism and many different evangelical religions. As we drove into the town of Hwange, we passed church after church, one after another, each representing a different evangelical sect. “Going to church” was listed as “favorite pastime “on many of those staff bios I read at the Zambian camp.
We stayed at four different safari camps, two in Botswana, and one each in Zambia and Zimbabwe. All were run by an African company, Wilderness Safaris, whose staff are terrific. From the guides to the cooks, all were caring, helpful, knowledgeable …and fun. They danced and sang for us, entertained us with stories about close encounters with wildlife, life back in their villages and much more.
Our 16-day safari was organized by Overseas Adventure Travel, www.oattravel.com We paid $4,495 each for the all-inclusive package (lodging, all meals, most tips, land and air transport within Africa). For more on our trip, see previous posts: Adventure Africa: The Animals and Adventure Africa: A Day on Safari
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For a taste of Africa, try the recipe for Mafe, a chicken-veggie-peanut-concoction which was a hit at my African dinner party. Click here for the recipe.
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