For a while now, Emurrua Dikirr MP Johanna Ng’eno has been a source of constant ridicule, especially from his political rivals and elders. They can’t wrap their minds around the fact that even as the legislator turns 45-year-old, he is yet to get married.
Narok Governor Samuel Ole Tunai is one of the critics who have publicly raised their concerns over the MP’s marital status. The county chief is on record as having told the vocal legislator to his face: “First find a wife before you can criticise both county and national governments”.
Ng’eno’s mother, too, has always been on his case like white rice. She was quoted in the press a while back urging him to marry. “I have been urging him to marry and start a family. I am eager to see my grandchildren,” she was quoted as saying.
Things got tough a while back when elders and leaders from Narok County warned Ng’eno to marry if he wants to be re-elected, even as he insisted: “Marriage is important but currently it’s not my priority, compared to serving my people. I will, however, marry when I want”.
Alexander Kosgei, the Trans Mara Sub-County Kipsigis Council of Elders Chairman, recently decried dereliction and attrition of culture by the MP in an area where polygamy was at some point a requirement for any man who wanted to be a political leader.
“Our culture is clear: A leader must have a wife, to ensure continuity of the family,” he said, adding that the basis of good leadership is a family. “Back in the day, it was necessary to be polygamous to be considered for leadership position,” he said.
The defiant MP further dismissed his critics, telling them that marriage was a non-issue and asked them not to try and turn it into a campaign issue.
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The going, however, got so tough last year that Ng’eno bowed to pressure, promising to marry before the 2017 General Election. But the good legislator, despite announcing that he now has a girlfriend whom he plans to settle down with, is yet to get married and he has less than two months to do so.
Besides the MP, there are many popular and little-known bachelors and bachelorettes who, despite having valid reasons as to why they have refused to get married, continue to feel the heat from society, demanding they settle down and start bearing children.
Understandably, getting married is arguably the desire and wish of many. Having that colour-themed, or invite-only garden wedding, followed by a vacation in some exotic location for honeymoon, is a fantasy that any potential wife or husband nurses at the back of their mind.
While some lucky men and women get married just when it’s appropriate, others have to contend with kissing many frogs first. Unfortunately, when that right marriage partner becomes elusive or for one reason or another one decides to take their sweet time, problems set in.
Families, friends and society in particular have some expectations concerning marriage. Any parent would wish to see their children get hitched when they come of age. But differently viewed external factors and personal circumstances do come into play, and that is when marriage temporarily takes the back seat.
WHY THEY TAKE THEIR SWEET TIME
Talking to some men and women of age who are yet to settle down, we discovered that there are many factors that lead to this sad state of affairs. Common among them is lack of financial stability, desire to get an extra degree or doctorates, better and well-paying job.
Whereas these can be reasons genuine enough, some family members and friends can’t take it lightly, and they opt to keep reminding and pushing one to marry by all means.
Take the case of Vera Muthoni, in her mid-30s. When she opted to pursue her career and studies at the expense of marriage, friends and family weren’t amused. They keep reminding her that she is not getting any younger, and that her biological clock isn’t waiting for her either.
“After graduating about 10 years ago, most of my family members expected me to introduce my fiancée and get married. However, they must have diasppointed when I opted to enroll for my master’s course and concentrate on bettering my career and life first,” she says, admitting that they unknowingly annoy her but somehow she has since grown some thick skin.
PESKY AUNTS WHO DENY BACHELORS PEACE
Aunties are the most bothersome of the lot. While most parents avoid being in that awkward position of reminding their children to marry, it appears aunties have taken up the responsibility of being naggers-in-chief.
Laura Sanaipei, 29, admits her aunties have taken it upon themselves to make her uncomfortable. “I avoid family gatherings such as December get-to-togethers for obvious reasons. My aunties can’t stop inquiring why I have kept them waiting for long, and when I will let them meet the lucky man,” she says.
She adds that had it not been for her good upbringing and tolerance, she would have talked back at them to mind their businesses.
In their understanding, such aunties don’t think they are getting intrusive. To them nagging one to marry is a sign of their good will and strong desire to see their kin settle down and propagate the familiar lineage.
Stanley Mbeteri, in his late-30s, has opted to take the pressure positively. “I was lucky to get a well-paying job after campus. This meant I had no excuse to delay marrying,” he says. Seeing that he wasn’t showing any sign of bringing home a woman, his aunties kept recommending this or that lady.
He was amazed that some of his know-it-all aunties have always taken it upon themselves to try and hook him up with their friends whom they think can make great wives.
PARENTS’ BIGGEST WORRIES
Also many mothers get jittery when their daughters take their sweet time to get a husband. In most communities, mothers derive some pride when their daughters get married. Apparently, this is believed to send across the message that they raised them well.
Matters get worse when one attends a wedding of a relative who happens to be much younger. Some relatives and friends push the joke further by asking questions such as: “When will we be attending your wedding?”
Reuben Bii, a youth leader, attributes such coercion and pressure to marry to a social setting that still perceives marriage as a social responsibility rather than a personal decision.
“As long as this notion exists, it would be difficult to ward off pesky relatives who won’t rest till you agree to their demands, which I find disrespectful to say the least,” he argues.
Notably, social stereotypes do work in men’s favour and against the women. For example, when a woman is in her 30s, and without a husband or child, this forms the basis for imaginations and falsehoods. You wouldn’t be surprised to hear rumours that they could be barren or just terrible at homemaking, so much so that no man is willing to put up with them.
Traditionally, communities hold in high esteem marriage and married people. In public barazas, a man of substance is measured by his marital status and whether he has a family he is providing for. A bachelor is frowned upon in such barazas and as such, elders won’t give them an ear.
STIGMA, SOCIETY’S PERCEPTIONS
In some communities, when you are way past a ripe age of marriage, the clan starts considering you to be jinxed. That can even necessitate a cleansing ceremony in extreme cases, when all preliminary attempts fail.
Zachary Chelule, a church elder, says that marriage is sacred and is biblically ordained.
“Marrying is part of fulfilling God’s will. However, in these modern times, nobody should be pushed to marry. People should be let to settle down when they are ready. The most important thing is happiness and love between the couple,” he says.
Liz Maria, a sociology scholar, argues that more emphasis should be put on the quality of marriage rather than its literal necessity. This, she says, should guide one to commit to a marriage of mutual fulfilment.
“Of importance is to have a common direction, raise kids in the best way possible and proof that true love and mutual trust strengthens the bond of marriage,” she says. She notes that marriage is not a matter of complying with the family or social expectation, but rather charting a destiny for a good cause.