It Takes Three to Tango

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By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

CHARLES HILL, Botswana

Around the same time last year a Namibian quadruple hit media headlines for their polygamous tango with a man rounding up two sisters in an Otjiherero traditional marriage in rural Aminuis.

Until then one would have thought this practice is archaic and on the wane, more so in this HIV-infested era. Not only that but the practice smacked of male egoism and going against every norm of the modern society of equals among equals and gender sensitivity.

However, unknown to the groom, Tjiuma Kamberipa, a communal farmer, he had a peer or peers in Namibia’s northeastern neighbouring country of Botswana, if not hordes of admirers in his own Namibian backyard.

A wedding ceremony just before the dawn of the New Year here brought me in contact with two wives servicing the wedding reception albeit in two different roles. One as part of the open kitchen staff ensuring the guests were nourished and their thirst quenched. The other, the best maid.

But the two had more in common than just servicing the wedding. They are both the wives of the bride’s brother. I chanced approaching the two. Not that I had much courage to do it directly without the help of more familiar and friendly contacts.

I thought they had an interesting tale. I staked my chance because I did not think getting their tale would be that easy. To my surprise, however, it was as smooth as I could have imagined. Thanks to my intermediaries. And, of course, the subjects. Their tale is to them no tale out of the ordinary and nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary theirs is a model union, which has become the envy of would-be threesomes, both male and female, and those already in this act but finding the balancing act a tall order.

We retreated to a secluded tree. We had hardly gotten around to the introduction when the husband showed up. Some intuition alerted him that his better halves were about to open up their lives to the world. There goes my story, I mused inwardly.

At the suggestion of one of the spouses, I invited him to be part of this exploration into their lives. Again I encountered no resistance. This sheer willingness and openness told me that the three had nothing to be ashamed of, of their threesome union. In fact, to the Harujezu trio – Meroro and his two wives, Shirley, the first wife and Sukoo, the second wife, the dictum seems that it takes three to tango.

The idea of a threesome marriage is one that Meroro had harboured for long before he even thought of starting a family or families. A pastoralist that he is given the scarcity of that essential factor of pastoral production, the land, he realised wealth in this regard would only be possible with more than one wife.

Owning about five plots of land spread the length and breadth of the Land of the Pula, habited by close to 600 herds of cattle, he believed none but his most trusted better halves would exercise the necessary vigilance over his budding wealth.

Yes, love is important but what would love be without material sustenance? Looks like Meroro had long understood the hierarchy of needs as espoused by Maslow.

Marrying the second wife, was not sheer dictatorial satisfaction and demonstration of the male ego. It took him years of persuading the first wife and letting her buy into the tripartite partnership. It was not a matter of yes-husband. After eight years of diplomatic cajoling Shirley eventually caved in to her husband’s persuasive skills.

Getting Sukoo, to agree to the three-to-tango covenant proved equally daunting. This is despite Sukoo being his cousin and traditionally his natural wife. Sukoo’s uneasiness and hesitancy was in her perceived infeasibility of a threesome matrimonial partnership rather than any taboo about such a relationship. More than anything she was not sure what kind of reception she would get from the occupant of the turf, Shirley, the first wife.

Still schooling then, she was lured home apparently to offer her rejection of the proposal in person. Her rejection was never to be. Before long she found herself closeted in the bridal cage. Five years or so after, these are all history and the trio is the quintessential of a polygamous relationship the envy and admiration of those aspiring towards same and those whose similar union has proven a bumpy affair. Not to mention those to whom they have become a living and practical source of advice.

But what has been the magic that seems to have been holding this union together? There is no mistaking that the union has indeed been working with Meroro time and again alluding to the togetherness and cooperation that the union has been blessed with.

The first lesson from Meroro is that such a union is not meant for the fainthearted. To calm the storms the captain in charge of the ship must at all times be steadfast in his rulings. Neither is there a place for liberal affections in such a courtship.

Communistic or socialistic affections towards his two wives have been the guiding principle. Simply put, boisterous display of laissez-faire affection towards the one or the other wife is not recommended. Top this approach with pragmatism and rationality minus emotions and you have a successful recipe for a long-lasting three-to-tango union. More than seeing the two as his wives, Meroro balances the act by seeing and treating both as his dependents who are equally deserving of his care-giving, emotional or otherwise. Most instructive, the king is king in this relationship and is unquestionable and the word from the king is law.

The union has its own inbuilt mechanism that defines the respective roles of each wife with Shirley, the first wife being natural senior partner of the two wives. Sukoo meekly acquiesces and obediently conforms to this. She sees and takes Meroro as more of a brother than a husband and Shirley more of a sister than a rival in the fight for affection.

Five children have been born to the union, three daughters 24, 19 and six to the first wife; and a boy and girl aged 17 and 14 respectively to the second wife. None between the two wives can claim motherhood of the children.

Having been brought up by Shirley, Sukoo’s children are more attached to Shirley than to her. Conversely, Shirley’s youngest daughter, Raurovandu, is more attached to Sukoo.

But what kind of advice does Shirley have for others in a similar relationship?

Keep gossips at bay! And never run home to mama complaining about husbands. Her mother does not accept everything she tells her about her husband without verifying this with her husband, she points out to one of her fortunes. Take a leaf from that.

Conjugal visitations and shuttling between the two wives does not seem to be much of a bother to either wives, given that the husband has a free reign in this regard. He is free to spend as much time as he wishes with either without any fuss. In fact, Shirley admits to at times referring the husband to her co-wife in this regard.

But what about the risk of HIV and Aids that lies in sharing a husband? On this score they trust in the supernatural powers. Anyway what is worse? Two wives sharing a husband or a wife sharing his husband with a concubine?

Like in the case of Kambaripa and company in Namibia, the law in Botswana seems liberal if not too lenient as far as traditional polygamous marriages are concerned. That is if it cannot be accused of a “don’t care” attitude towards this perceived barbaric practice of the Africans.

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