Three years ago, I asked my dad what the role of women was in his culture and how women were treated. This was when another incident of violence came to the fore.
I needed to understand how his culture dealt with women and their place in society. My dad is a man of huge contrasts; he is an immaculately patient being with a frighteningly explosive temper. He is not someone you would easily walk over. If you did, it was because he tolerated the situation or he walked away from a fight.
His restraint was and still is legendary. He was not a saint. He did extend his share of violence to poor unsuspecting souls who chose to pick on him. Even in his worst, he never laid a hand on my mum.
The wisdom in his reply has stuck with me since.
His, was a warrior culture, where the men pretty much ruled the daily affairs of the tribe. The decisions on where to settle, which alliances to forge, which clans to attack and destroy were made by men.
However, the secret counsel and the influence came from the women. Our ancient cultures understood the purpose of the man’s ego. The women guarded it. They did not interfere or publicly embarrass their men in front of their peers. But in decisions that were going to be disastrous, the women chided and counseled their men.
The man’s wealth came from the women who cared for the gardens and the pigs in partnership with her man. A careless women spelled the downfall of her husband.
Society understood that wars could be started because of the words of women and disastrous battles that could affect generations in the future could also be avoided through a woman’s counsel.
Women were not mere properties.
My dad said despite the fierce reputations of the grandfathers, women were rarely beaten or abused. Shouting or fighting with your woman in front of your elders was shunned. It spoke of a man with boyish tendencies, unable to control his emotions and unable to function as a thinking, intelligent warrior in battle.
He said it was expensive to fix domestic disputes that came to the attention of older people in the tribe. You had to pay compensation in pigs and whatever they demanded. Basically, if you are man enough to strike your woman, you must have the wealth and the emotional stamina able to fix multiple relationships affected by your actions.
Diplomacy in the home and outside of it was a skill every man had to learn.
Years ago, when my mum was a feisty, hotheaded, young woman, I used to hear her say during my dad’s most frightening moments, “Noken wari, em ba no nap paitim mi.”
I understood much later why, he always calmed down. First and foremost, he loved his woman too much to strike her. Second, as per the wisdom of the ancestors, it would be too emotionally expensive to fix several relationships that came with the woman he loved.
The disrespect shown to his in-laws – the young men and women who came to look up to him would be very difficult to repair. The trust would be broken and it would take years to fix. To restore his honor, he would work to repair all those relationships.
The parallels to the 21st century relationships, remain the same. Abuse has high penalties –emotional, financial and legal.
[That is the wisdom from my culture. You have to understand your own cultural context from your elders.]