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We don't need DNA tests in Africa; children belong to the community

By Awuor Omino | June 6th 2021

The dust has finally settled on the Hamo and Jemutai’s saga and it may appear that life has regained some normalcy.
But I am keen to drag us back, not necessarily on the issue of the two love birds but on this issue of DNA. I do not think that presently there is a Kenyan, old or young who does not know the meaning of DNA. While most of us do not know what each of the single letters stand for, even a woman in the depths of Kaksingre will tell you DNA is what you do to ascertain the paternity of your children.

And this brings me to my question, where did the rain start beating us? When did the African man become so jealous so that they can discreetly take a child for DNA test?

You see our African ancestors never really cared about the paternity of their children as long as they were sired within the boundaries of the community.  Because of this arrangement there was never a sterile African man. The moment your mother realized your wife’s stomach  showed no signs of growth a year into marriage, she discreetly summoned her and arranged for a midnight date between your wife and your brother and in less than a month your wife would be seen throwing up at the faintest scent of fried foods. In two months she would have developed weird appetite for stones and charcoal and you would have regained your voice amongst your peers.

In fact, one did not have to be sterile for the wife to enjoy the bounties of mashemejis- women in their foresight used such opportunities to introduce good genes into the family.  If no one in the family had made it beyond standard 8 then a clever wife would go and source for ‘seed’ in a home where men had gone beyond secondary education. Such measures were also taken to improve the physical appearance of the children in the home.

But years later, because we were colonised and blindly accepted the colonizers religion, we have dismissed our culture and everything that was good with it. We have thrown the baby with the bath water and we are at crossroads because the African man wants to embrace Christianity and polygamy all at the same time. Suddenly the African man is queuing in hospitals for fertility tests because his second marriage is ending thanks to childlessness.

The contemporary African man is so jealous to even realise when the woman is out to ‘help’ him. However, we still have countries like Tanzania where the population understands that a child belongs to the society and not an individual. In Tanzania, they talk about social fathers and no man is allowed to take a child for DNA test even when the child’s squinted eyes resemble those of the neighbour next door.

Though a work of fiction, ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s wives’ by Lola Shoneyin is a good example of how women, even in a polygamous marriage, can work together to protect their husband’s shame. Baba Segi, though married to four wives has absolutely no idea that he is impotent and is more proud of his ‘children’ than he is of their mothers.
Just like a snake does not forget its tail behind when it enters a hole, we should not forget our culture even as we embrace modernity.


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