Last week my catechists and their wives have gathered here at the mission for a week of discussions, presentations and time together. They came on Sunday evening and returned to their homes on Friday.
One of the subjects of discussion was polygamy. Usually, catechists say that they commit to having only one wife. In many cases, after a few years, some do take a second wife. This is not something that is discussed often among the teachers themselves. The teachers and their wives never discuss this issue. Last week it was brought into the open and the women had a chance to express their views. Some had very strong opinions about the possibility of their husbands taking a second wife.
Among the Maasai, who normally live a precarious life out on the plains, having more that one woman in the family “boma” makes for a stronger family, able to keep going in times of difficulty. When the mother in a family gets sick or incapacitated for some reason and she is the only woman there, the family can fall apart. The responsibilities of the woman are endless. It is her job to go for firewood and water, to care for the children, cook the food and build the house. Normally, she will push her husband to look for a second wife so that the family can become stronger and more stable and more prepared to handle trouble when it comes, as it inevitably will. The catechists, who receive a salary, although a minimal one, are not living quite so near the “edge” as many others. No firm conclusions were reached about polygamy, but the discussions were heated and some mutual understandings were achieved.
Another series of heated discussions took place around the issue of the “Laibon,” the Maasai witch doctor. Early on in the middle 70’s when the first Maasai priests were ordained, Those new priests took the decision that a Christian must not go to the “Laibon’ for help. The problem is that some problems do not respond to traditional Maasai medicine nor modern medicine. These difficulties end up being dealt with by the “Laibon.” To follow the dictates of the Maasai priests means that a family in which, for example, the woman cannot conceive a child, is left with no place to go for help. Over the years this has been a bone of contention, with some going to the “Laibon” anyway and others not. This week there were strong views expressed on both sides and long discussions. As with the issue of polygamy, the question was not resolved, although much healthy give and take took place.
We slaughtered a goat on Thursday, to mark the end of our week together. It was really a great party. There was succulent roasted goat meat and soda for everyone, and the heated discussions and controversies were put aside for the moment.