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Mother struggles to protect daughter from cultural practice

By Agnes Kyotalengerire

Added 6th February 2018 06:28 PM

Mukandoli says she told her in-laws to let her daughter grow up and decide on her own if she wants to do what her aunties want her to do

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Mukandoli says she told her in-laws to let her daughter grow up and decide on her own if she wants to do what her aunties want her to do

PIC: A child being christened. Sometimes parents disagree on such religious rituals if they came from different religious or cultural backgrounds. (Credit: Agnes Kyotalengerire)

CULTURE

Patience Cotilda Mukandoli, a mother of a nine-year-old girl, is not seeing eye-to-eye with her in-laws and her marriage is being threatened. Mukandoli is a Rwandan businesswoman while the father of her child is a Muganda. 

What is threatening her relationship with the father of her child and that with her in-laws is her refusal to subject her daughter to a cultural practice among some communities in Uganda, commonly referred to as “pulling” or “visiting the bush”. The practice involves a girl elongating her labia minora by pulling them.  

Mukandoli says the disagreement started in November 2015.

“As soon as the girl broke off for holiday, my sister-in-law (referred to as Senga) visited us and requested that I let the girl spend some time at her home so that she could get an opportunity to teach her some Kiganda cultural practices. When I asked her which ones in particular, the Senga mentioned teaching her home chores in addition to pulling,” she explains.

Mukandoli adds that when she categorically informed her sister-in-law that she would not subject her daughter to the practice, the sister-in-law told her that the child belonged to her father’s culture and that it was their duty to raise her according to the demands of the culture.

Mukandoli says she told her in-laws to let her daughter grow up and decide on her own if she wants to do what her aunties want her to do.

She notes that this has brought about mistrust in her relationship with the father of her child to the extent that she cannot let him go with their daughter to a family function without her.

“Since we are not on good terms and so I cannot visit his side of the family, this implies that my daughter will not get a chance to interact her cousins and other relatives on that side,” Mukandoli notes.

Mukandoli, a Christian, notes that her in-laws have given her a hard time since the child was born nine years ago. The first issue of contention was that the in-laws wanted the baby to undergo an initiation ceremony (commonly known as okwalula abaana), which was meant to help them confirm whether the child belonged to their clan.

The ceremony involves putting a piece of the baby’s umbilical cord in some specially prepared fluid. When the cord does not float, then it means the child does not belong to that clan.

Relating to Mukandoli’s dilemma, there arises a question of what religious and cultural practices that children born to parents of different beliefs should follow. Below is what some opinion leaders say.

With today’s modernity, it has become common for people with different cultural backgrounds to date, get married and have children, what is described as intermarriage.

Counselling psychologists note that intermarriage is not bad, but conflicts that arise due to disagreements over what religion and cultural beliefs and values the family and particularly children should follow is what creates headaches.

Joseph Musaalo, a counselling psychologist working with Adonai Counselling Services, says the issue of which practices to follow is supposed to be agree upon during courtship. Some sensitive issues, for instance, religious or cultural practices, should be discussed prior; during courtship and premarital counselling and the couple agrees how to go about them.

For instance, if a man comes from a culture where they circumcise men and the woman does not, it is important that the couple talks about it and agree on what to do before the children come into the picture. This will prevent conflicts, Musaalo advises.

Culture

In the same breath, Ruth Matoya, a counselling psychologist working with Healing Talk, says when you marry across culture, there is a lot of adjustments to be done.  In most cases it comes with advantages. For instance, Matoya considers children born out of intermarriage lucky because they learn from different cultures. However, she faults some men (husbands) who insist that their children should follow and practice their culture.

“But the man himself has already crossed the line by marrying from another culture, so why does he restrict the children from adopting their mother’s culture? When you lay your bed, you should sleep in it,” she argues.

Maloya is quick to explain that even when the parent (usually a man) prohibits the children from speaking the other parent’s language or practising their culture, there is a lot of values that the other  parent can pass on to the children without necessarily talking to them.

Matoya explains that when you marry a person, you marry a package, which includes their spiritual, cultural and family values. It becomes difficult to erase that with only a marriage certificate.

Pamela and Roy Kilama. The couple has learnt to compromise on certain issues


Religion

Religion is contentious, if the couple does not discuss and agree, it may divide the family. Some children may decide to move with their father, while others opt for their mother’s religion.

 “It is good that the children are brought up in one faith, Musaalo notes, adding that however, as the children grow, they may choose their own faith.

Matoya notes that often a dominant partner, who is usually the husband, may prohibit the woman from raising the children in her faith, which is sometimes bad, especially when the husband is not staunch in religion.

Musaalo advises couples to agree on religious values and practices for their home, adding that religion is also a point of unit. “As the religious saying goes; a family that prays together stays together.”

Culture and religion

Mutoya says premarital counselling is key. “The couple needs a counsellor who probes in their person life and talk about things that will affect their marriage,” she affirms.

During counselling, Musaalo says the couple should be encouraged to learn each other’s culture and religion because children will take on cultural values that you promote in the home.

“When the couple disagrees, the children get confused as parents are their first teachers,” he warns.

Communication is important at the beginning of the marriage. The couple should understand that they have cut across the borders and need to adjust to one another without necessarily being dictatorial, Matoya explains.

Additionally, couples should talk about issues related to values. Values are lived and not taught; 70% are what you are and the remaining 30% of values are taught.

Roy and Pamela Kilama's story

Pamela Kilama, who hails from Bunyoro, is married to Roy Kilama, an Acholi from Gulu. Pamela says her husband Roy would pray from a Pentecostal church while she went to the Anglican Church. But after sometime, they decided to follow the Anglican faith and that is where they wedded from.

They also baptise their children in the Anglican Church. Additionally, they agreed that the children speak Langi (their father’s language) and also learn more of the culture so as to blend comfortably with their relatives.

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