The Woes of a Son-in-law

OleTajeuo, our catechist and song leader, married Neema about eight years ago. Shortly thereafter, Neema’s mother suffered a stroke, paralyzing her left side and turning her into an

Catechist OleTajeuo
Catechist OleTajeuo

invalid. The task of nurse fell to her only daughter. Neema has remained at home taking care of her mother all these years. This situation left OleTajeuo on his own, except for infrequent visits to his family at the village of his mother-in-law. Some time ago, the old lady agreed to come and live here on the mission, enabling OleTajeuo to be with his family, Neema, Lekumok, his son of six years and their two-year-old daughter.  After a couple of months, the pull of her home village proved too much for the old lady and she prevailed on OleTajeuo to take her back to her village at Nainokanoka. Neema, her daughter and “nurse,” had to go with her.

Over the years, OleTajeuo has used most of his salary each month to supply Neema’s mother with medicine and fruitless trips to one hospital after another. Along the way, he has slaughtered any number of goats from his small herd to provide rich “soup” and meat for his mother-in-law.

Among the Maasai, in-laws take full advantage of a son-in-law, demanding endless gifts and expecting him to bear the financial burden of dealing with any difficulties that may come along. This is especially true of a son-in-law that has a salary, no matter how meager, and it doesn’t get much more meager than the salary of a catechist.

Neema and her daughter Tumaini
Neema and her daughter Tumaini

Recently, the mother-in-law died. Due to the stroke of years ago and other ailments, her health has deteriorated steadily and she passed away. OleTajeuo had been with her for many weeks, first at home and then in the hospital. He has slaughtered goats to give her strength and bought medicines that might be helpful. During her final days, when the old lady had ceased to respond to any medical or traditional Maasai help, he stayed with her in the hospital helping in any way that he could. The long ordeal ended a couple of weeks ago and OleTajeuo returned here to Olbalbal to resume his work as catechist and song leader, but not with his wife.

The final time in the hospital was costly, and after her death the body needed to be transported in a rented land rover back home to her village of Nainokanoka. All this was very expensive and OleTajeuo had no more money. The brothers of his now deceased mother-in-law “lent” him the needed money – about $80 – and now will not allow him to take his wife until he returns the money to them. The total responsibility for their sister fell on OleTajeuo. The irony is that they have a decent sized herd of cattle and goats, whereas OleTajeuo has his very minimal salary equivalent to $40 a month and a few goats. Along with all of this, he already takes care of his own mother and unmarried sister – heavy burdens, all.

This story exemplifies the nature of a Maasai marriage. In Maasai country, marriage is more than a union of two people. One marries the whole family of in-laws. A son-in-law must

OleTajeuo's son Lekumok
OleTajeuo’s son Lekumok

shoulder all their troubles. For example, if an animal needs to be sold to enable a father- or mother-in-law to travel to a hospital and get treatment, it is the cow or goat of the son-in-law that will usually be sold, seldom would it be the animal of the in-laws.

OleTajeuo’s ordeal is not over yet.

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