Spoiling the in-laws with the meat of the game hunted was the best way to win the award of the best son-in-law
“No Valentines assaults planned against my wallet shall prosper!” gag some guys on their Facebook walls. This half joke embodies the protests of men at the commercialisation of St Valentine’s Day as it is their pockets that feel the pinch. Spend or be damned as being unromantic, that’s the message.
But with the economy being what it is the world over, perhaps this is the best time to convince your partner to go back to our roots. Here are some romantic gestures from the not so distant times that you could try out and save your pocket:
Bribe the in-laws
Courtship was not as simple as asking for a girl’s contacts then chat about whose place to hook up at. First of all the guy identified a girl, then he discussed her suitability with relatives like his elder brothers and their wives. Then he made moves on the girl. This included winning the approbation of people like her paternal aunts. To do that the guy would take presents to the paternal aunt to prove that he was a capable provider. Small game that he had hunted himself was usually the best way to convince the aunt that her niece would not be doomed to a life of vegetables unleavened by the highly cherished taste of meat. Could these be the roots of the custom of feeding the wife’s relatives to bursting point, giving rise to the sarcastic expression — ‘‘kudya sehama yemukadzi’’, as the lingo goes?
Fruits of love
When the girl herself finally gave the guy her acquiescence, she would be showered with delicacies meant for her own personal consumption. These were mostly choice fruit. If it was known to come from some far and dangerous spot, all the more impressive the present would be. Dried meat (chimukuyu) purloined from his own mother’s kitchen given to a girl to chew on her way to the well also raised a dude’s mojo no end. You have to agree that a fruit basket bought in the supermarket pales by comparison.
A guy could spend a year or more telling a girl how he was sure that fate meant her to be the mother of his children, his mother’s favourite daughter-in-law and the chief scratcher of the scabies on his back before she responded positively. A quick acquiescence was believed to be an indication of loose morals and would immediately result in a guy showing a clean pair of heels, or alternately asking for premarital conjugal rights, which he would never do with a girl he intended to marry.
But when the girl eventually agreed, the couple would go to the paternal aunt’s home and pledge their troths to each other. Forget flashy fake diamond rings. They exchanged items of their own personal apparel. The guy might give the girl his newest shirt and she might in turn give him her favourite headscarf. As the second hand flea markets and cheap Chinese shops were still decades away, these were no small sacrifices and would result in an instant wardrobe downgrade. The equivalent today would be the giving up of a quarter of your wardrobe comprising of the very best of your outfits!
Big risks, small gains
This was the big one. After a young man had gone through the whole proposal trial and been finally officially accepted by the girl, there often followed a long period of courtship as they studied each other’s characters. It also gave the man time to put together his lobola. To prove that he was steadfast, dependable and willing to totally risk everything for his girl the guy would indulge in a piece of foolhardy behaviour called ‘‘kunyenya’’.
He would sneak into the girl’s bedroom (munhanga) and spend the night in there before stealing off at dawn. For his pains he would not even get a little kiss, but would lie chastely with the girl until it was time to go. Never mind the terrible temptation that he would have to overcome, if the girl’s male relatives caught him, the boyfriend would literally be a goner. The best that could happen was that irate brothers and uncles would simply beat him up and force him to take the girl with him. At its worst the adventure could prove fatal. Often the family dogs also had a go at Mr Loverman.
Do not believe the feminists movement and how they love to go on and on about traditional customs having all been against the woman. ‘‘Kugana’’ was when a girl looked at a dude and decided that she just had to have him. Instead of stalking him on Facebook wall and sending him desperate WhatsApp messages until he blocks all avenues, she had it easy. One day she simply turned up at his homestead and sat outside his mother’s cooking hut with her head covered. Immediately the family would know that a daughter-in-law had arrived. All that was left was to ask whose reed mat she had come to keep warm and she was in as wife number one. The poor dude had no choice as rejecting her carried stiff pecuniary implications. So lucky guys did not have to do any hard work to get the girl.
In genuine equality of the sexes, the privilege of coercing someone to marry you whether they would or not, was not limited to women. Men could kidnap the bride of their choice. All they needed to do was keep a lookout until she was careless enough to go fetch water or wood alone. Then they would simply pick her up in a fireman’s lift and take her home to Mama where she would be closely guarded until the marriage had been consummated and she could no longer go back to her parents’ home. Unfortunately, the white man’s law has made this and the above romantic gestures illegal.
Beads were more precious than gold. A girl could never have enough beads. Beads were needed to adorn her best leather skirt. Beads were needed for necklaces. A whole lot more beads were needed to make the strings that defined her slim waist. Beads were bought from Portuguese traders and much later in the shops. A guy who could bring some was obviously a respectable bread winner, man enough to make a girl’s heart go boom boom!
In other words, the more things change, the more they remain the same. When it comes to romance it is a woman’s world. It has always been and always will be. So go on gentlemen, get those wallets out already as you tiredly wait for another leap year to roll by and let you off the hook, at least for another 12 months.