By LINDA KEYA
Early this month, Alice Mugwe, 27, was jailed for six years for killing her five-year-old son Peter Mugo by throwing him in a pit latrine at Nyambari Market in Lari on June 26, 2009 to ‘save her marriage’.
When Alice met a man she loved, she left her young son from a previous relationship with her mother and moved in with her beau — without telling him that she had a child. But when the little secret was discovered, the marriage floundered. And down the pit latrine young Peter went.
It seems single mothers, especially those with boys, carry a warning sign on their foreheads reading ‘marry at your own the risk’ — at least if men are to be believed.
Most men feel getting ‘ready-made’ children is not only hectic, but also unwise although if they had to choose, they would rather settle down with a woman with two or even three daughters, but never a son. Maybe this explains why there are many street boys as compared to girls, but that is a story for another day.
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The only constant factor is that a true African man will not find it ok for a woman to come with male children. They would never raise other men’s sons mostly because of land and inheritance issues.
It is about pride. A man wants to chest thump and boast “hii ni ndume yangu (that’s my boy)”. But how would he brag if the son didn’t spring from his loins? Even worse is the notion that out there lives another man who brags that his ndume (bull or son) is being raised by another man.
But there is more to it. Boys, at least among the people of western Kenya, allegedly come to the homestead with a granary of misfortunes.
“Mtoto wa nje, haswa kijana, humaliza boma yako kabisa. Ananyang’anya vijana wako bahati yote (stepsons destroy your home because they take all the luck from your biological sons),” says Mzee Robert Okwisia.
The old man adds that such boys always tend to excel academically, get good jobs, marry ‘organised’ women and have successful families unlike a man’s biological children. Worse, he says, such boys eventually leave in search of their biological fathers, leaving the men who raised them high and dry, unlike stepdaughters who bring wealth to the home.
“Cases of men strangling their young stepsons early in the marriage, so that they can start on a clean slate are, therefore, not uncommon. Also when you live with a woman who has another man’s son, that man can come and take her away any time. We have seen these things,” says the retired teacher.
Elders also whisper that a stepson is likely to bring to the family manners and characteristics that are different, like night running, and be a nuisance and a threat to the surrogate father’s daughters.
Most of the men Crazy Monday talked to concurred that culture and traditions play a major role. They preferred girls because they kind of believe girls come with fewer stresses — no expensive rituals like circumcision and boys’ huts, and are instead, a source of wealth as they bring dowry to the home and tend to be very close to their stepfathers.
“The only expense is to feed them well, buy them goodies when they sulk and give them a good education,” says James Wekesa a software engineer.
Boys, on the other hand, will have their eyes set on your estate and even that of the clan, basically wanting to rule their step-fathers’ kingdom, something most men wouldn’t stand from someone with foreign genes.
“A ‘stranger’ boy is like a treasury bill — it is a claim on your fortune as a man. But a girl is never ‘foreign genes’. She is like a grant from overseas. Free credit. If a single mum has a boy and wants to get married in the larger Africa, I suggest she hands over the boy to his biological father or leave him with her relatives. I would happily take care of my sister’s boys, but not a son with different genes from my own,” says Wekesa.
Aside from that, a lot about bringing up a boy from a different father boils down to perceived control. Men want their women and brood to be under their control. But controlling and disciplining a man who is unrelated and knows you are not his father is difficult and almost certainly, will lead to rivalry and conflict. Even worse, that son makes it difficult for a man to control his own wife, men say.
The son looks at his stepfather as a stranger who wants to control his mother, while the man, on the other hand, looks at the son as a stranger interfering with his wife. Striking a balance can be a hard task when you, in real sense, cannot please them both.
This will most split the woman’s loyalty between the two males of different blood. At the end of the day, the son may win by virtue of being her blood relative, which makes the chances the marriage failing quite high.
“Single women with sons have to choose between a lover or their sons, with many sacrificing their own love lives for their sons, This narrows or even blocks their chances of having a marriage,” says lawyer S Kibira.
The only other way, says Kibira, is to either let biological fathers or maternal grandfathers bring up children borne out of wedlock.
In Luhya land for instance, ancestral land belongs to the clan, it is inherited. Therefore, the family land cannot be subdivided to a stranger — he needs to go back to his own clan and get his share. In fact, cases abound of grown men, some with families, who troop back to their biological fathers for a share of the land after getting raised by maternal uncles and grandparents.
Secondly, men and their children cannot be parted.
“Men follow a former girlfriend to where she is married to bring back their sons. If that is not the case, when a man reaches a certain age, he starts snooping around looking for his bloodline and a place to build his simba. You can’t control him,” says Mzee Oluoch Madiang.
Neighbours won’t make matters any better. They gossip about it and even lead the boys to their biological parents without the adopted father’s knowledge.
“Who wants such stress or to be nagged to the bar, or even to the grave in search of another man’s real father? It’s just best to keep off these women with boys for sanity’s sake,” poses a man who sought anonymity.
But some single mothers have been lucky to be taken in with even three sons. To them, these are none issues. If a man wants her, then he needs to take her with her baggage or bugger off.
“The first thing I do when I meet a man is to tell him that I have a nine-year-old son who is part of my life. If we are to become an item, I make it clear we will be three in the relationship and if he doesn’t like it, he can as well take a walk,” says Nduku, a 33-year-old nurse.
Small comfort for Jane Frieda Achieng’, a mother of two boys: “ A man told me to my face that he loved me but would only look for me when my sons were done with school and were out of my house.”
It is a safe bet that neither Achieng’ nor Nduku will be walking down the isle any time soon.