Western culture is moving away from patriarchy

Precolonial Culture and Gender Relations in Zimbabwe

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FOR TODAY BATTLES. The African way of life is generally seen as different from the Western way of life. "African culture" or "traditions" are often used to justify the subordinate position of women. When it comes to gender equality in the West, it is assumed that African culture is associated with gender inequality. The reality is more complex.

Trying to remember pre-colonial cultures runs the risk of falling into traps of memory, oral tradition, the reliability of sources, and probable accusations of speculation.

The pre-colonial societies of Zimbabwe were largely writtenless, so their ways of life remained undocumented. What is known about these societies is based on oral records, records of personal memories, and analyzes by social historians and anthropologists, as well as archival records of the activities of early missionaries, adventurers and others who encountered these societies. In addition, some lessons can be gleaned from studies that analyze the social change that occurred before colonization. The studies used here show that cultural practices have changed in response to changes in the economic, cultural and political environment.

Diversity of Zimbabwean cultures
Zimbabwe has several language and cultural groups including Shona, Ndebele, Venda, Sotho, Tonga and Shangani (also known as Tsonga). These groups can also be found in neighboring countries. There is much debate as to whether or not these groups had these names in the pre-colonial setting, given that ethnic differences did not emerge until the colonial era. Within Zimbabwe, these linguistic and cultural groups are located in regions which - simply referred to as Matabeleland and Mashonaland - are based on crude colonial, ethno-based map drawings in order to assign administrative responsibilities. The legacy of colonial ethno-cartography, the legacy of which lives on in much of Africa to this day, has led to the creation of false labels and rigid distinctions of ethnicity, when in reality ethnicity has been highly flexible due to intermingling through migration, marriage and trade, etc. . The fixed borders or areas, which give the impression that staying in a region would automatically mark a cultural identity, obscures the fluidity of the identity that these processes exhibit.

Within the broad language groups of the Ndebele and Shona there are different dialects, worldviews and cultural practices as well as differences in economic activities related to the agro-ecological potentials of the environment.

Most of the ethnic groups in Zimbabwe are patrilineal. That is, group membership and access to resources such as land, work, or savings were determined by membership in a group with a common male ancestor. The marriage was characterized by the exchange of valuable goods (hoes, pearls, cattle and later industrially manufactured goods and money) for women who moved into the families of their husbands. This structured the role and status of women as well as their access to property.

These societies were male dominated (patriarchal). Today, the roles and status of women in neo-patrilineal milieus are still entangled in patrilineal practices, but these are diminishing with the pursuit of gender equality. The Tonga from northern Zimbabwe are an exception to this rule. They are matrilineal, although they too have accepted bridal money marriages in which the marital residence is determined by the groom, who in turn lived with his matrilineal relatives.

Roles and status of women
Because of patriarchal conditions, women had a low status compared to men. For example, they were used as tributes to ingratiate themselves with powerful families - through arranged and sometimes forced marriages - they were "pledged" as compensation for murders if there were no other valuable compensation goods, or as substitute wives after death or the " Inability to work "elderly female relative. Some of the rejected applicants were kidnapped and raped in order to force a marriage. Research shows that forced and arranged marriages were widespread in the pre-colonial era. To a significant extent, women have been used to pay lineage debts and to strengthen clientele relationships between men and their kin.

However, the status of women also depended on their family status and position, so that women born into powerful families were spared these patriarchal excesses. In addition, some women who converted to Christianity or who were fortunate enough to get into paid work by going to school have escaped the worst aspects of the tradition. In general, Christianization required the adoption of new femininities that were shaped by domesticity.

With colonization, these customs were banned for the first time, so women and girls could run away from abusive relationships and from arranged and forced marriages. Many women ran to mission centers, cities, and mining areas, causing significant unrest in rural areas and even litigation in traditional courts. Later colonial administrators admitted that it would be better for colonial enterprise to allow men to control women, if only to stamp out the unrest that has flared up at the prevailing patriarchy, which has seen the structures of authority being undermined.

As a result, the turmoil in social relationships fueled male dominance, which continues to this day. The colonial administrators chose to coexist with tradition if it did not question it or if it served their interests, which at the time meant getting strong men into wage labor with the certainty that their wives would not undermine patriarchal interests. In popular debates on the challenge of colonialism, this aspect of gender tensions is not used to criticize the tenor of the prevailing patriarchal and misogynistic cultural practices. This blind spot can be seen, among other things, in the fact that the deportation of women from the cities in the period after independence was regularly used as a means of establishing "African culture".

Christianization and patriarchy
With Christianization, women were brought up to domesticity, which was to make African women "good wives and mothers" who were sexually reserved but hardworking. Domestic education was characterized by lessons in housekeeping, knitting, crocheting, nutrition and Cooking, housekeeping, and childcare offered through radio, church, and neighborhood groups. While hard work was encouraged, women en route to civilization were no longer able to increase their husbands income by brewing beer, as was common in the early colonial days Domestic education brought new values ​​of dependence on men in wage labor, subservience and sexual restraint as new characteristics of femininity, but it also opened up new opportunities for women to earn money through handicrafts.

In the agricultural economy, women's roles revolved around food production, housework, and childcare. The food was mainly consumed by the womens own children and the more distant relatives of the husband's lineage.

As wives, women were given land on which they could independently produce grain in order to be able to feed their children on the one hand, and because of polygamy on the other. The women, who were able to produce surpluses and sell some of their produce, controlled the proceeds from those sales. In the Shona society, women could bequeath property they had produced themselves to their daughters and relatives after death.

In today's Zimbabwe, access to land remains male, while women continue to influence agriculture and the rural economy. There have been many reforms when it comes to inheritance. But the implementation of gender-equitable measures depends on knowledge of and access to courts or institutions such as the formal employers who liquidate the land. Although women work in agriculture and the informal sector, their savings, meager or significant, are being used up in ways that have yet to be documented.

Women were also active as artisans, panning for gold in the river and making a range of handicrafts which they traded with Europeans. In addition, they were recognized herbalists and acted as spiritual media and fortune tellers. As herbalists and midwives, women also enjoyed autonomy, dealing exclusively with women's reproductive health and children's health problems. Women also went hunting with men. Missionaries tried, however, to counteract the women’s knowledge of medicinal plants, which they attributed to superstition and classified as contradicting Christianity and civilization.

Today, men dominate the herbal medicine field, including specializing in women's health. Knowledge of medicinal herb use makes women appear superstitious and subversive, especially to male authority. There is evidence that women use herbs (love potions) to control unfaithful husbands and lovers. Even then, women's competence in herbal medicine was marginalized and viewed as subversive. While traditional religions allowed women to lead, women in Christian churches do not hold any leading position except as the wives of church planters or priests. Comparatively few women have founded their own churches.

The bride price and its obligations
Marriage was a kinship-motivated and male-dominated social, economic, and political alliance between or within kinship groups in both patrilineal and matrilineal settings. Age was also a factor as the family elders dominated marriage formation and dissolution by presiding over wedding rituals. They controlled and received the exchanged goods and also controlled marriageable women.

In the pre-colonial framework, marriage was shaped by the need to expand the kinship group and thus to ensure survival, not only by increasing the number of family members in the family line of the groom, but also by ensuring a continuous supply of working people - with children and their mothers.

In Zimbabwe, as in much of southern Africa, marriage was based on bride price payments (goods of value given by the groom's family to the bride's family). In the pre-colonial period, these payments were made by a large number of relatives who made the bride the wife of the lineage, in the sense that she had responsibilities towards her husband's family, in the form of housework and childbearing.

In the pre-colonial setting, the bride price was described as a "security deposit transfer", which means that in the event of a divorce, especially during the woman's childbearing age, the goods or part of them were refunded. With the changes in the colonial era, the communities were not able to maintain the concept of the bride price as a deposit transfer as refunds became rarer. The reasons for the non-return of the bride price in the case of marriage dissolution are partly due to the fact that the bride price was monetized. The money receipts became for taxes, the acquisition industrial manufactured consumer goods, used for services such as "dipping" (dipping the cattle in a disinfecting liquid to treat parasites; i.e.,), school fees and other services, which are therefore less suitable for saving for future reimbursement claims. The non-refund of the bridal gift initially led to many interpersonal conflicts in rural areas, which were characterized by legal disputes before traditional courts.

The monetization of the bride price
The bride price was monetized through the alienation of land and the depletion of livestock, which made exchanging cattle for bridal wealth less profitable. In addition, the need to pay taxes (on huts, livestock, and cattle census) forced able-bodied men to seek wage labor within the first four decades of colonial occupation. Since wages are usually earned by individuals and through personal efforts, the men saved individually for the bride price, which became an individual business and was no longer a collective and kinship-based source of resources. The role of relatives in marriage also decreased. Likewise, brides were no longer accountable to a wide network of relatives of their husbands. This also led to a decrease in the bride's wealth as collateral transfer as it became difficult to return money and factory goods.

The monetization of the economy led to an increase in the value of the bride price as the elders used it to purchase new consumer goods that were not available in the rural economy. Factory-made consumer goods such as groceries, clothing and other novelties (along with cattle or cash instead of cattle) were included in the bride price, which makes it flexible to this day. Some families are now demanding cell phones (including certain brands or devices), the latest televisions, and even cars.

The increase in the bride price weighed on young men. Colonial administrators and missionaries tried to cap the custom and in some cases to ban it. Suggestions that Christians might forego the dowry altogether were discussed, but the practice did not seem to prevail. The bride price remained because it was intertwined with the rural economy.

The emergence of customary rights
In theory, customary rights are based on cultural practices. Realistically, however, customary rights emerged in response to crises in social relations due to colonial politics. The back and forth about the emancipation of women and the status of women, debates about bride price, reactions to the effects of alienation and the effects of male labor migration on marriage, gender relations and sexuality speak in favor of this crisis. Common law is a racist, male-biased, and misogyne version of culture and traditions that aims to keep women under the control of men, especially curbing them as a result of the early colonial era. In addition, customary rights have a controversial status because they are not lived customs and are not part of the law in the formal sense. Nevertheless, they exist today as a kind of blueprint of cultural practices, a moral compass for gender and age relationships.

In addition, the cultural practices of the ethnic minorities are not well documented, so that these minorities have to contend with the dominance of powerful ethnic groups. The Tonga, for example, have to struggle with the dominance of the Ndebele and Shona as well as the persistent stereotyping of Tonga customs through misperception and misjudgment. There is a limited understanding of matrilineal customs among the general population, leading to the imposition of patrilinearity. This is made even more difficult by the fact that social change in general tends to undermine matrilinearity in favor of patrilinearity, thereby marginalizing Tonga and similar identities.

Reviving Pre-Colonial Practices?
The question of whether there is anything from the pre-colonial era that could be revived in gender campaigns is complex. Socio-economic tensions in the early stages lead individual women to respond to individual needs. The foregoing also shows that cultural practices are dynamic and change due to changing social, economic, and political contexts. That is both good and bad. Good because it means there is room to question prevailing social practices, bad because political interests, i.e. the interests of those in power, can determine how this change takes place.The latter means the weak need to be smarter to defy rule and make sure their interests are protected.

The bride price remains and increases due to the numerous new consumer goods of the global consumer culture. Debates about the limitation of the bride price were unsuccessful even in the period after independence. There are numerous debates about the objectification of women, which is marked by the commercialization of the bride price, but the bride price continues to be seen as an essential foundation of a respectable marriage. Associations that were established without paying the bride price are frowned upon. The churches have also accepted the payment of the bride price, if only as part of the "respect" or observance of the gerontocracy. They therefore claim that the bride price is compatible with Christian doctrine.

Although women continue to individually oppose and question patriarchal cultural practices, the utter rebellion against patriarchy and gerontocracy in Zimbabwe today is frowned upon by both formal and informal women's organizations. Even if feminist activism and lobby groups demand fairness and equality in gender relations from women, these efforts are dismissed as anti-cultural, un-African and thus subversive. Where reforms take place, it is more under pressure from donor countries than through condemnation. History shows that gender reforms are subject to clawbacks, as examples from the 1990s show.

As recently as 2007, when Zimbabwe changed the laws against domestic violence, some MPs advocated preserving "our culture" from protecting women's rights. In today's Zimbabwe, people forget that women in the last century were able to resisting rule, expressing oneself, and turning away from oppressive relationships Today women are afraid to speak out because dependence on men is in part idealized by Christianity as well as male prejudice in business.

What this brief discussion shows is that social history is reserved only for college graduates, even then only a select few whose disciplines it encompasses. Tradition and cultures therefore conjure up an image of "backwardness" and superstition that many like to get rid of. The marginalization of this story in public discourse also means that there is no reflection on how patriarchy became what it is. Beyond that Christianity, especially the Pentecostal Church, which argues that God fights for those who pray, ensures that women are silenced and prevented from taking action and focusing on prayer, if the ideas discussed above perhaps in gender Campaigns could be used, we might see a more critical examination of culture. However, this presupposes that women are interested in the past. However, the relationship of women with the "past" is made more difficult by religion, education and the prevailing concept of development. In short, this social story is interesting but not usable.

Rekopantswe mate

The author is a social anthropologist and currently lecturer at the Faculty of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe. In 2014 she did her PhD at the International Institute for Social Studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam in Development Studies with a focus on youth studies.

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