Marriage: In the Eyes of a Sister and Daughter In-law

They say blood is thicker than water. What do they mean by that?

Even in marriage…does it still apply?

African women

When I told one of my friends that I would write about in-laws in my next blog, you should have seen the reaction on her face, epic! Her question to me was; what if your husband sees it?

I had not mentioned to her yet in what context my blog would be yet she assumed that I was going to be writing something very bad. But since when did the word in-law become synonymous with negativity? Is it possible for one to have a good relationship with his or her in-laws? And most importantly, why are women the ones that are mostly entangled in the in-law wars more than men? Why is it common that most people will treat their in-laws – whether daughter, brother or sister in-law as rivals? Who exactly gets to win in these competitions and what price do they actually get? What role does money play in all of this?

To convince myself to finally write about this topic that has baffled me for a while, I reasoned that despite it being a touchy topic, I would do my best to not bring my own wonderful in-laws into the picture. Even as I said this in my head, I couldn’t help laughing. It’s gonna be hard to talk about this subject without drawing from my own experiences. However, today I just want to talk about a sister or daughter in-law in general…but mostly in Zambia if am being specific.

I don’t know about men but for most women, when we start to consider a man as a potential marriage mate, we look at the following things; our love for him, his love for us, personality, for some – relationship with God, his career, ambitions, his family background (and this mostly involves evaluating our potential in-law – rich, poor, or breadwinner of the family?), and another important factor that most women won’t admit – a consideration of his salary!

Some people believe that when you love someone then it shouldn’t matter how much money he has. Well, that’s very true but if you are considering one for a potential marriage mate, it should matter how much money they have or how much the both of you have or will have in future because with marriage comes more responsibilities that will require you to actually spend money irrespective of how much love you have for each other. But of course, there is always the option – to choose to die together in poverty – sometimes love can be tragic too.

Because I am a woman, I tend to have a bias towards women in some of my topics but that is because I am one myself and I share first hand most of the experiences that women in general go through. With this in mind, I believe that the in-law relationship is mostly complex for women than it is for men. I could be wrong!

Let me start with the basics first.

Why are women prone so much to the in-law drama?

It is generally believed that men are the breadwinners of the family and women are the caregivers and keepers of the home. The man will provide the finances and the woman will administer those finances and at the same time take care of the family relations to ensure peace and stability in the home. This situation puts the woman in more contact with the family members than the man who is mostly out of the house trying to make a living. Although both of them have responsibilities towards keeping the family together, the fact is that the woman will have more to do with it than he ever will because within her lies the potential to either break or build a home.

In Zambia, when the parent in-laws come to visit the home of a married couple, the man will greet them without needing to get down to the floor while the woman will first need to get down to the floor before she can address either of them. It does not matter which side of the family they are coming from, this welcome ceremony applies to both sets of parents. Already, the footing between the man and woman is on different levels so guess who’s at a disadvantage?

For most parents, it will matter what level the woman will bend down when greeting them and this is very important because it has to do with respect. The man of the house will chit-chat here and there and can even excuse himself to go watch a game in the bedroom while the woman goes to the kitchen to tend to the guests. Depending on the relationship – whether they are her own parents or her in-laws, she needs to approach them strategically.

God forbid she decides to serve them chicken because then she would need to go through every piece in the pot to ensure she doesn’t serve the ‘wrong piece’ to the wrong person! How the woman will deliver her food to these people will tell them more about her upbringing and depending on the kind of in-laws she has, it will inform them whether she is a good wife to their son or not…yes, just a piece of chicken and the level of kneeling can do that! By the way, keep in mind that while all this is going on, the man is somewhere watching a Real Madrid game or cursing at Wenger or Anchelotti for the bad formation of their players.

Earlier, I talked about the things that women look out for in their marriage mates and it was for this reason – the kind of family that a man comes from…and here I mean whether they are rich, middle class, poor…if he is breadwinner or not, his ambitions and his salary, his love for you, etc will have a lot to do with how your relationship with the in-laws will be like. This is what I mean:

If the man is rich, those close to him will question your intentions toward him – are you genuine or looking to rise up the social ladder? There is nothing wrong with this of course because, who wouldn’t want to protect their assets? But, it is the approach and the extent to which they will pursue this line of inquiry that will determine the kind of relationship the in-laws will have towards each other.

If the man is poor…this word somehow doesn’t sit well on my tongue so let’s say if the man isn’t well to do, his parents might expect that he marry someone who might help him become better in life and this would mean someone with a better financial standing. However, I do suspect that it’s easier for people that are ‘poor’ to get along with their in-laws because there are times when lack of money can make families draw closer to each other whereas too much money can cause a lot of divisions. Sometimes, it’s the total opposite.

When the man is the breadwinner: A lot of families have this kind of arrangement in Zambia. For me this is the most challenging kind. When a woman comes into the life of such a man, it is natural for his family to get worried; how will things change once this woman enters their lives? If any change is seen in the man after meeting this woman, she will be held responsible; he doesn’t support us as much as he used to, when you ask him for money he sends the exact amount you asked and doesn’t add anything like he used to before he met her…etc.

They say that money is the root of all evil?? Most of the challenges that couples face in marriage would have a lot to do with money be they communication, infidelity, etc. It used to be so easy for me to make judgements on my own sister in-laws (the women married to my brothers) before I got married but the moment I got into a serious relationship and was ready for marriage, my eyes got opened because then I could see things from both point of views.

Someone once told me that ‘your in-laws are not your friends and you should never treat them as such, especially your mother in-law. Fear your in-laws and hold them at arms-length.’

But I also remember the Reverend who married us say this in church;

“Treat your husband’s family as you would treat your own. This one is not your mother in-law,” she had said, pointing at my husband’s mother. “She is your mother.”

Having lost my own mother just a few months before my wedding day, I was excited to gain a new mother figure in my life but the truth is that I was also very confused! How exactly was I supposed to treat this woman people where telling me to fear and others telling me to treat as I would my own mother? I am afraid I still haven’t found the answer to this question.

I have always struggled to understand the dynamics of the in-law relationships. I believe that the way one treats their own siblings should be how they treat their brother or sister in-laws. But is this even possible? You can be free to shout at your kid brother if he does something wrong. He will get mad at you and not talk to you for a while but eventually you will reconcile and move on as if nothing ever happened. But if you upset an in-law like that, will the ending be the same?

Blood is thicker than water.

Literally, or figuratively??

…I have heard a lot of people say this. But, does it apply in marriage? If the two became ‘one in marriage’, then doesn’t that make them a complete part of each other’s families? Who then is closer to whom and should there be such a comparison in the first place? It is like asking a man who between his wife and mother is more important. I think that anyone who asks such a question deserves a punch in the face.

The idea that women should be held responsible for a man’s change in behaviour after marriage is both true and false. Why do I say this? Firstly, it should be expected that after a man marries, he should, by his own efforts strive to start behaving like a married man. Secondly, once he is married, it should be expected that his family will no longer be dealing with an opinion of one, but of two people who became one. And this takes me back to my point about money. One of the things some men fear about getting married is having to share or report their financial status to someone. When you are single, you have the freedom to spend however you want but once marriage comes into the picture, you have no choice but to learn about budgeting.

If a man used to spend ‘limitlessly’ or within his means before he got married, the moment this changes, the first reaction from his family would be, ‘that awful stingy woman changed him.’ But did anyone ever take the time to find out why things have changed? Like I said earlier, marriage comes with its own responsibilities. Whereas a man only had to deal with one family before, he would now be dealing with two. And even though this fact hurts as hell – whereas his mother’s family used to be his first priority, it now becomes second. This is nature, as designed by God and not man. It is hard for any person who is single to accept this arrangement – as I did too.

Unfortunately, this is the point that most people misunderstand. Just because a man’s priorities have changed after marriage does not mean he has to forsake his own family or that his family should curse the new woman in the picture for having changed their son or brother. Only a fool would forsake those that have been an integral part of most of his life, the ones that gave him/her life and the ones that gave him a family.

Would I be wrong to say that most men don’t bother much about the in-law dramas that take place in the homes and the only time they ever get involved is when they have been summoned by the concerned parties to help with resolutions? Someone be dammed should they have to pick a side! It’s even worse when they fail to pick a side! The poor souls.

However, women are always up in these situations trying to make the other feel their weight. Be it at funerals, weddings, gatherings in general, in the homes…women brought together under the term in-law and under the same roof are too much to handle. It is amazing how a woman who is also married will take pleasure in making another woman’s life (an in-law) difficult. Is it really impossible to get along between women? Sometimes my species really amuse me. The things I have seen mostly at weddings and funerals can cause one to question the idea of marriage itself.

I think things might change a little for women if people thought about this old concept which is as effective as God intended it to be; treat others the way you would want to be treated if you were in that situation. Especially women…why all the hate towards each other? Sister in-laws (and this applies to me too, sadly)…if you are single, you will one day get married too! But if that never happens, don’t take it out on others. And if you are already married, have some respect for other people’s wives if you want others to respect you too. Do not abuse tradition by top-dressing it with your own ignorance. There is nothing like tradition empowering you to make the life of another woman hellish. Even in ‘in-lawness’ it is very possible to get along peacefully and when faced with problems, to address them maturely.

Because I am a sister in-law myself, both by own doing and through my own siblings doing, I want to strive to be the kind of relative they can be proud of…that even when problems arise, instead of treating me as an outsider, or treating them as such, I will choose to address the issues without so much as injuring my pride and respect as well as theirs. There are no scales on which love can be weighed, but families ought to love each other through thick and thin. It should never be a matter of blood or water or even oil. After all, before blood was formed, our own parents were strangers too. It takes two strangers to meet, two people that are not related to come together and unite their blood to make it thicker.


Zambian Politics: A Revelation of Tribalist Tendencies

“I Would Rather Die than Vote for a Tonga President,” I heard him say.


I never thought that there would ever come a day when I would feel ashamed just for the mere fact that I am Zambian. However, as the day for the by-elections keeps drawing near and as campaigns intensify, every single day I wake up and leave my house, I keep getting reminded of the truth about Zambians – the sudden realization of how deep certain beliefs lie and how overwhelming the potential for these beliefs to breed division is.

I am not very active when it comes to political issues but I am never one to remain silent when I experience something so profound that it threatens to wreak havoc to the very foundation of my being. I did not know that this is how my people truly are. I did not know the depth and levels of tribalism in Zambia until the campaigns for these elections started. Without meaning to sound like a prophetess of doom…I keep wondering, could we be another Rwanda?

Tribalists: I am not sure if this is an actual word or if it qualifies as an adjective but I will still use it.

Tribalism: The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines tribalism as ‘loyalty to a tribe or other social group especially when combined with strong negative feelings for people outside the group…. Tribal consciousness and loyalty; especially: exaltation of the tribe above other groups.”

I know it is very hard for people to accept that they are tribalists yet it is very easy for them to point the finger at another for being tribalist. But since when did this situation in Zambian become so grave? Since when did I start fearing to express my views when out in public? Since when did it start to matter what tribe my friends are or what tribe the person I am voting for is? The present reality in this country makes me shudder and if people do not evaluate themselves sooner, this could lay the foundation of something on a genocide scale. And I mean it.

Do not get me wrong, I am not Tonga and neither am I married to one but I would not mind being Tonga at all.  I come from the Northern Province of Zambia, Mbala to be a little specific but I was raised in two towns in the Southern Province.  I am married to someone from the East. Through the years, just as I have come to learn more about the many tribes that we have in Zambia, I have come to appreciate the diversity of this beautiful country. Many are the times I have boasted to my foreign friends that despite having such diverse cultures, we are still a nation locked in togetherness. But that feels like it was centuries ago and the truth that is at play now is enough to confuse the devil himself. I am no longer able to boast about that and that is what I find embarrassing because once upon a time, that used to be my pride.

The one thing I have come to realise is how ‘some’ Zambians are unaware of how tribalist they can be. I feel that most people are not yet aware of their tendencies or they choose to take it lightly or ignore it altogether. You see, I was not raised very traditionally. Because of personal family issues, my father believed it was better for us to speak English at all times – a decision he later came to regret, and so have I.  So the first time I attended a wedding in Zambia and the MC said something about the two tribes that were getting united in matrimony, I got to experience for the first time adults openly insulting and humiliating each other in public. I could see some people getting upset yet more of them where laughing…and mostly at the expense of the other tribe. As I sat there cringing from being uncomfortable, my dear mother whispered to me, “they are doing Chimbuya.”

It was then that I learnt that it was okay for certain tribes to insult and humiliate each other like that and to whatever degree and the one that got offended would be the weird one. It was a horrifying discovery. Years after that experience, I convinced myself that I would not get uncomfortable when such things happen but to this day, every time I hear people playing chimbuya, I can’t help feeling extremely offended despite not being part of the circus. Personally, despite its traditional connotations and essence, I feel that it is this charade dressed in chimbuyaness that is slowly breeding tribalism in Zambia. Yes it’s been ‘in existence for many years and no one really means what they are saying’… but is it really necessary to bring another tribe down just so we could get a rise out of them and make those around us laugh?

I have a historical and archaeological background and I will be the first to preach to you about the importance of preserving a culture. But I will also be the first to remind you of how culture, if not approached properly has the potential to retard development. But have you ever wondered what causes genocide? No matter how innocent you think your utterances are, are you sure that the person that is receiving them in all their humanness will not at all feel the sting at some point? And in all your efforts to get a rise and a laugh at their expense, to what degree have you disassociated your personal judgements and feelings from the ‘jokes?’

Now,  I am not saying that Chimbuya is the cause of tribalism in Zambia. I am simply questioning the practice and ‘wondering if at all it would have anything to do with the current state of reality in political realm in Zambia.’

I keep hearing people say that Tongas are tribalists yet every time I ask them to explain that statement, they only manage to convince me of how tribalist they themselves are and not the party in question. It is always Tonga’s this and Tonga’s that. Tonga’s love themselves too much…you can’t work with Tonga’s…they have bad manners in the work place…and so on and so forth. But seriously, can this be the basis for ‘de-campaigning’ a presidential candidate?

Not so long ago I met someone who said this to me, “Have you ever conducted research? Do you know how facts are collected? Researchers come up with facts based on ratios. If you go out to do research and you discover that the majority of people in that area practice certain things, then your report will say that the people in that area…and not ‘some’ people in that area because you are reporting your findings based on what can be considered general.”

Although those where not his actual words, that was the point he was trying to deliver and all this was because I asked him to not make general statements about Tonga’s. He felt he was justified to make this declaration – “I would rather die than vote for a Tonga!” As I watched and listened to him shamelessly run his lips up and down like a heifer on heat, it struck me;  he was just as tribalist as the people he was accusing of the practice.

Was there any research that was done to prove that Tonga’s are tribalists or Zambians simply came to that conclusion based off their unfortunate experiences with that group of people? If so, how many of those experiences where first, second or third experiences? How many where hearsay? How sure are you that those experiences stemmed from those particular individuals being Tonga’s and not their personalities? If you have had mostly bad experiences with Tongas in your life, at what point in the experience did you become aware of their tribe and did it in any way affect your judgement? Do you think the outcome of that experience would have been different if a person of another tribe was in it or if you had not been aware of any tribal inclinations at all? How much of your own beliefs do you think affected the outcome of that experience? Do you think that just because someone has a Tonga name, irrespective of their social upbringing or educational background, by virtue of them having Tonga blood, then they will exhibit ‘Tonga-like’ behaviour? Have you ever taken the time to find out why Tonga’s behave the way you think they do? I have these and many other questions.

I want people to know that even in a well conducted research, there are always limitations. You simply cannot draw conclusions based on what you think is the majority view. Just because one Tonga behaved in a certain way when faced with one problem does not mean that another Tonga would have behaved that exact way when confronted with the same situation. It is especially dangerous to draw conclusions if your mind already has its own preconceived ideas. Before you judge how others are, ask yourself how much of that judgement reveals about yourself.

I once said this to my sister over the phone about someone I had seen on the streets earlier that day, “She was awfully dressed! She was wearing a long dress but with white sneakers and stockings. She was definitely Tonga that one!” The truth is that that was not the first time I had uttered such a derogatory statement about Tonga’s and laughed about it as if I had said nothing wrong. In fact, one of my closest friends is Tonga and although that fact never at any point came into play when I was getting closer to her, there have been times when I have said to her, “iwe chimuTonga, very typical!” Was I being a tribalist?

Yes there have been times when I have felt like kicking the life out of my friend when we have disagreements but there has never been a time I attributed her judgements, utterances, or behaviour to her tribe. So, could that have been my weakness or her weakness? Another friend of mine (should I mention that she is Bemba?) made this statement;

“I have heard Zambians celebrate every time Mweene the goalkeeper for the Zambian Soccer/Football Team saves a goal…but I have never heard people say anything about his skills having anything to do about him being Tonga or not. In fact, it was only after someone mentioned it to me that I learnt he was Tonga.” And to tell you the truth, I am also not sure if Mweene is actualy Tonga or not. It had never occurred to me to ask.

Personally, I have had many terrible experiences with people yet I cannot remember how many times I attributed their behaviour to their tribe. Looking back, I have had disagreements  with people from almost all the tribes in Zambia! However, I cannot say for sure how many of those where Tonga’s and how many where not. So, do you think I, who was not aware of such a thing has a weakness or the weakness would lie with someone who can count on his/her fingers and more how many times he/she has had bad experiences with Tongas? From when did you start counting and at what point did you discover those people where Tongas? Perhaps, could there be people with such characters from your own tribal group? If there are, would you be comfortable with people ascribing that characteristic to your whole group?

I understand that each tribe has its own tendencies, some very nice and some not so nice. However, before making general statements, how about we put into perspective all variables? Do not just say Tongas love themselves too much or that they are bad to work with. Everyone knows that women are complex creatures of emotion and they tend to be lethal whenever it’s ‘that time of the month’ – this is a biological fact – yet men still marry them and decide to have children with them. The question is why? Because they strive to understand them. Have you ever tried to understand why certain tribes have certain tendencies? If I grew up hearing that my people are backwards, mediocre, with funny accents and so on…will you blame me if I become defensive in the presence of other tribes or if I propel myself to excel to prove the haters wrong? Would you blame me for being proud? How about we both take responsibility for the way society has contributed to my socialization and if the outcome is not likable, can we do anything to change this from reoccurring? Can we do that?

Before you utter anything negative, it is important to think critically about the outcome. Genocides have started for lesser things than playing Chimbuya. It is very easy to practice tribalism and not be aware of it. If you are going to vote for anyone, vote on merit and not tribe. Since when did you start thinking about what tribe your friend or enemy was? Could it be that there is something you yourself is lacking and the only way to discredit others is to attack something of theirs that they had no choice in attaining? Who had a choice in the tribe they are? We can choose our marriage partners yes but our children will have no choice in who their parents are. If you have a problem with that, you can take it to God in prayer. He always answers.

While I was writing this piece, I called most of my friends and asked them this question; what tribe is Hakainde Hichilema and what tribe is Edgar Lungu? You know the answer? It was this answer;

Hakainde is Tonga and Edgar is from Eastern Province.

And no, the answer was NOT HH is from Southern Province and EL is from Eastern Province. People were not clear about what tribe EL really is and it didn’t matter because who doesn’t know the tribes from Eastern Province? By the way, how many tribes are there in Southern Province? My point here is that people are quick to mention Tonga when referring to HH but slow to come up with either Chewa, Nsenga, Ngoni or other tribes from the Eastern. It is the same with all other political candidates, their tribes do not matter but HH’s tribe does.

Why should tribe matter for one and not the other? If we took away HH being Tonga, can we list down the qualities we feel demerit all presidential candidates from taking that position, including the ones we support? Is it possible for us to weigh the pros and cons of each and make an informed decision from that or are we simply supporting candidates based on loyalty? How many of us have taken the time to make such evaluations?

Just because people belong to opposing parties does not mean there is nothing they can learn from each other. I am of the belief that as long as I am not being asked to vote on tribal basis, I can strive to understand different party manifestos, evaluate the candidates, consider the past lessons, and make an informed decision. And once I decide, it is not because I feel that candidate is perfect and the rest are worthless, it is simply because out of all those candidates, I believe that the one I have picked stands for most of the things I would love to promote. If you have personal experiences with HH that have led you to believe he is a tribalist, then don’t support him. However, it would be wrong to ascribe his behaviour to all Tongas. I understand that all cultures have their tendencies but, just as you hate hearing people from outside Africa talk about how poor and Ebola-infested people in Africa are, then stop this Tonga this and Tonga that because what you see is not always a complete picture.

I do not wish for people to see this as a political campaign but instead, an opportunity to think about what they say and what the impact their words can have on the Zambian community at large. If our children grow up hearing the words that I have been hearing lately, can you imagine what the future of Zambia would look like fifty years from now? Even in politics, isn’t it possible to campaign without bashing the tribe of the opponent? Whatever happened to voting based on merit, has it become a foreign concept?