The December holidays are not called ‘the festive season’ for nothing. It is the time families converge and make merry.
But that is not always the case. This is also the time when family foes meet again and pick up from where they left: taking away from efforts by other family members to truly make merry.
It always starts with relatives who gossip or bother a lot about the private lives of others. Then we have the petty ones who bad mouth those that didn’t contribute towards the feasts and reveal one another’s dirty little secrets.
As such, the joy of the festive season can easily switch to sour mood. One nasty spat is enough to kill joy for the Christmas spirit.
Take Musa Indakwa for instance. Growing up Musa was branded ‘dumb’ by his younger brothers for he often tailed in his class.
“I know that they called me dumb to make fun of me, but I recall feeling hurt every time that title was thrown at me,” Musa says.
Musa’s younger brother, David, had cut himself the reputation of the smart one in the family.
He was the bookworm. “He was often leading in every subject in his class,” Musa recalls.
One would think Musa would have been happy for his brother. But the mere fact that a blood brother could crunch arithmetic at the speed of a modern computer, while he struggled with his abacus style computations, only piled on the misery.
One time David joked that he and Musa were essentially similar: that while he led from the front Musa led from the opposite end.
Musa recalls boiling with rage. In a moment of uncontrolled anger, he struck his brother in the face; causing a gushing wound.
Though Musa’s younger brother healed, the scar below his left eye has always been a reminder of that ugly moment.
And in 2013, at the request of their aging father, all the brothers (and their younglings) traveled to the Indakwa homestead.
There were rough handshakes and forced smiles. Now, adults, one would have thought that the brothers had matured and had learned to live with each other. But barely four days in, on Christmas Eve, had Musa - known to love his tipple - come home that evening inebriated.
The alcohol in his bloodstream had unlocked the ‘safe’ where he kept all the nasty thoughts he had for his brother. Drunken Musa, the family found out, was quite an abusive character - a pale condescending shadow of the sober Musa.
“Everyone thought I was the stupid one yet I am the one who is keeping my parents alive. I feed them and I have built them a house. The learned ones have abandoned their parents and expect to be respected,” Musa howled from a distance.
As he inched closer so did his voice.
He went on: “What do you have to show for it? You keep bragging that you are the bright one yet you have nothing to offer.”
As he made his way across the homestead to his ‘simba’ (a makeshift house built by a son) it became more apparent who Musa was addressing.
“Mother, there are some sons that are not worth having: you would have rather given birth to a girl. A daughter would have made you richer with several heads of cattle.”
David sat there; seething. While their children had no direct knowledge of the longstanding feud it was clear to everyone who the comments were directed to.
A teetotaler, David fought the urge to retaliate. After all, he was sober and could not feign ignorance – unlike his elder brother.
The following day it was Christmas. In the Indakwa household, everyone kept to themselves. The brothers avoided each other. Christmas was largely silent and awkward.
By December 28 each family was retreating to their urban conclaves: cutting short their holiday visit which had been expected to last into the New Year.
Such scenes are not unheard of, says Prof Halimu Shauri, a sociologist. Differences running deep within families have always cropped up at an opportune time.
“Often, these stem from childhood hurt that was never solved between siblings or cousins. As new generations come and go the children who witness these family feuds form a mindset and take sides,” she says. Some sibling fights (or competition), Prof Shauri observes, may get ugly and even lead to crimes like murder, if not mitigated early.
“While many childhood fights are often viewed as harmless, some form the basis of life long battles between competing sides,” Shauri observes.
Two years ago, sisters Hadassah and Jael went for each other’s necks on New Year’s Day.
The two came from a family of girls - five sisters.
With all of them married and out of their maiden home they made a habit of visiting their aging widowed mother upcountry.
“That year Jael - the black sheep in the family - also showed up,” Maureen, a close friend to Hadassah who had accompanied her back then told Crazy Monday.
Hadassah is the eldest in her family while Jael is the second born. A few years back, on her sister’s invitation, Jael arrived at Hadassah’s house for a short visit.
“All was well until Hadassah’s husband began making passes at the young and youthful Jael. Jael also acted like she liked the attention. The sexual tension was evident between them and Hadassah took notice,” Maureen says.
Tension hit fever pitch the night Hadassah’s husband sneaked out of his marital bed and crawled into the guest room where Jael was napping.
“Hadassah woke up in the dead of the night and suspiciously made for the guest room. It was locked. Her husband was inside having a romp with her sister.”
The next day Hadassah kicked her sister out. But that did not help matters as the lovers continued with the clandestine affair; sexting under a pseudonym.
Eventually, Hadassah lost faith in her marriage and kicked her husband out as well. The once fond relations between sisters had turned sour.
“Hadassah has never forgiven her sister - whom she refers to as whore - and the two don’t see eye to eye,” Maureen explains.
The girls’ mother never got to hear about it until January 1, 2017. She not only got to know about it; she had to listen to her daughters throw unprintable epithets at each other.
“I welcomed you into my house believing that my kid sister was a mature and good-intentioned person but you turned out to be worse than a snake. Little did I know that I had opened the door to a prolific prostitute,” Hadassah tore into Jael.
With as much bile Jael retorted: “You call me a prostitute like you are any better. You are dumb and can’t satisfy a man. That is a problem I can’t help you with.”
A few more unsavory words were exchanged, roping in the other sisters. One sister accused the other of having been fathered by a different man (and not their father).
Another demanded to know when a different sister was planning to settle down in marriage as she was ‘growing old and ugly’.
Before long a nasty battle ensued - kicks, blows and all.
Later, their mother tried to broker peace without much success.
“These days the girls prefer to visit their mother individually. They often call their mother first to inquire if anyone else is home before traveling,” Maureen points out.
Amos Alumada, a family and marriage expert at Pan African University, believes that families like Jael and Haddasah’s ought to sit down and address the problem before it gets worse and perhaps get passed to their children.
In some families today, some aunties are known as ‘the promiscuous one’ and some uncles ‘the good for nothing uncle’.
Amos says: “Children are born with no knowledge of existing feuds. The only way they get to form such biases is through their parents.”
The cycle of hate gets repeated with cousins, he explains.
Parents should always make an effort of solving feuds among siblings to prevent it from growing into a monstrosity, Alumada says.
But as long as sibling rivalry is treated as harmless confrontation we will likely to continue witnessing awkward family reunions.
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