By Captain Mabior Garang de Mabior, Nairobi, Kenya
Thought for today: family is the smallest political unit in a society and the stability of a society is directly related to the stability of the families which constitute that society. The social ills which plague our society today are an indication that we have a serious crisis at the family level. It is important for us to take a critical look at how we have defined family as a people and whether this definition is still relevant to our contemporary realities. There is no one definition of “family, even Sociologists don’t agree on a single definition. The “family” being a social imstitution, will have as many definitions as there are societies. The family is the primary institution through which the individual is socialized by the culture and “family” will be defined according to the cultural values of the particular society. The people who live within the territorial boundaries of what is today the Republic of South Sudan are a historical peoples, we share with other peoples of the Nile Valley the rich history and cultural heritage of the first civilization known to humanity according to historical and archaeological records. The fact that these ancient cultures were founded by black Africans – which is an oxymoron – is incontrovertible and the records are available for those who are willing to do the research. One only need consult the works of Herodotus, who was a contemporary of the ancient peoples of the Nile Valley, Gerald Massey, a 19th century poet and wtiter , Cheik Anta Diop and many others.
Our history as a people has been derailed by the despicable experiences of colonialism and slavery, there has been a break in cultural continuity. The customs and traditions our people follow today, were developed and imposed on our people by the oppressors, the Ottoman Turks – known locally as the Turkiya. The Turkiya established slave trading companies in our land and left “strongmen” – known locally as ‘Sultan’, who administered the new system on their behalf. These ‘Sultans’ used the power of the oppressor to impose themselves as tyrants on our communities, changing our social structure, customary laws and practices, to be consistent with the new economy of the slave trade. The ‘Sultans’ who built their wealth and power through the power of their masters, could afford to pay ridiculous dowry prices and literally sell anyone into slavery who did not obey their decrees. The family structure changed for many of our peoples and closely related to this, marriage. Marriage and family are closely linked, it is through marriage that families have been traditionally formed.
In pre-colonial and since pre-historic times, our people have lived in the Nile Valley – ‘we are our own ancestors’ – and we share in the rich history of the origins of civilization.The first families came together to create clans that could cooperate and increase their chances of survival. Marriages became a way of founding families and cementing bonds with other peoples. The ancient Nile Valley Civilization was a matriarchal society and so we know the conditions our women lived under could not have been the way they are today, there has been a radical change to a patriarchy and aggressively misogynist social order. This is a legacy of the Turkiya, who were the descendants of the Greco-Roman invaders who were patriarchal, ‘the traditional elite’ collaborated with the oppressor, was socialized by him, becoming the oppressor himself – known locally as black Turuk. The slave economy that was introduced by the Turkiya, was accompanied by a slave society – presided over by the black Turuk – who became junior partners in the slave trading companies. The family and institution of marriage was no longer to ensure our own survival as a people, but for facilitation of taxation. Families started being organized into cattle camps and each cattle camp had a strongman who would raid smaller cattle camps and sell their members into slavery. The only communites who escaped this fate retreated into the ‘deep rural’ areas of our country and ended up cut off from the rest of humanity until modern times.
The Turkiya established most of the major towns in our country as administrative centres. Each town starting as a ‘Zeriba’ – a slave holding kraal made of thorn bush – traditionally used for cattle. The towns we know today grew around the ‘Zeriba’, with markets outside and the residences of the colonial armies’ families, growing into what are today the ‘Malakiya’ neighbourhoods.
The family and institution of marriage became tools for social control and for the production of slaves, where each family was forced to fill a quota of children who got sold into slavery. The abject poverty and refugee crisis brought about by slave raids started many negative traditions. Among these is the use of marriage to escape poverty. A poor family could impose – with the threat of intercommunal violence – their daughter on a wealthy family for the dowry. This has become normal and rampant in some of our communities, it would have been shameful in pre-colonial times. An ugly tradition has also evolved in which people marry for politics – aspiring Presidents and First Ladies – girls don’t even dream of being president. Our young girls have been turned into commodities by their own families and this trade is still going on today. The slave trade has been abolished; however the slave society which accompanied it still haunts us. Our girls have become slaves – for lack of a better word – to the families who win them in auction like marriage ceremonies. The duties of a wife in many parts of our country are no different from those of a slave. Millions of our beautiful sisters are suffering silently in loveless marriages and this is a serious threat to our national secyrity.
In our country today, an old man in his 70’s can have a senior citizen as his first wife and an underaged girl as his next wife and this is very normal, even some of our so called leaders are guilty of statutory rape. A girl can be beaten to death for refusing to marry an old man and no one is charged with murder and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Is this the society we struggled for?
There is little hope for a young couple in South Sudan who truly love each other to build a family together unless one goes for resettlement and even then it is hard to break the shackles of mental slavery. The concept of “love” has become strange to many of our people,we only talk about love as it relates to things and not ourselves. If there is no love in the family, then how can children be nurtured to be productive adults in their communities? If mothers are in loveless marriages, how can they effectively nurture their children? If our children are growing up in a loveless environment, then no love will grow in them and soon we shall have communities filled with hatred, fueling domestic violence, intercommunal violence and civil war. The children have no chance and the country has no future.
The hard-won freedom of our peoples’ struggle over generations was not just to raise a flag at the UN. It was for the ‘fundamental freedom’ and ‘redemption of every individual, everyone of our citizens has the right to ‘liberty’ and ‘justice’. We must not only banish oppression by law, but we must also rid ourselves of the culture which accompanied this oppression. Our future as a people depends on establishing a viable state for the first time in our modern history. We must get back on track. This means moving away from the slave mode of social organization, into the modern industrialized era. Whether we have single parent families, blended families, co-parenting, the traditional family or any other type of family, ‘love’ should be the common denominator for the ‘new society’. If a young man and a young woman want to get married, they should be able to go to City Hall and get a lawyer to marry them through a civil union. The current system that has turned dowry into an industry, has corrupted the ancient practice of dowry. Today astronomical amounts of cash are collected in the name of dowry and end up being divided by old men who never participated in the upbringing of the young couple. The couple is then forced to start life broke, as it were and we know the leading cause of family break ups is financial constraints. This dowry then ends up as local brew money for old men in the village, when it could have been put in a joint account for the young couple to start their life together and have a better chance to establish a viable family that will be a gift to the community and a strong foundation for the state.
The family is in crisis in our country brothers and sisters, we must stop pretending everything is okay. It is ridiculous to expect all the citizens in a country to be married, in perfect marriages and everyone’s house looks the same- somebody is lying!
The family is the foundation of the edifice we call the state. The fact that we are a failed state betrays the illusion of perfect families we are presenting to the world. There is a serious contradictoon between the historical realities and the contemporary realities. This small thought experiment is not intended to offer a magical solution to this problem, but to get us thinking. It is out of collectively thinking and bringing these topics into our national conversation, that we shall eventually find solutions to our problems as a people
A luta continua!
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