MATRIARCHS PERPETUATING TRADITION (the good and the questionable): (fourth in the grandmother’s week series)
This Tuareg grandmother left me perplexed. She is the community’s female leader, healer, and guide. She expressed much wisdom regarding traditional medicine, and the other women of her community admire her for her profound knowledge and diplomacy. She is greatly esteemed as their guide.
And yet, one thing that greatly troubled me was the rampant tradition of marriage as early as ten (several years even prior to menstruation), in the community. While I am accustomed to seeing girls wed as early as 13 or 14 (still much too young), I had not seen girls married pre-menstruation. She, along with most other women of the village, justified this choice: “as soon as a girl becomes strong and attractive, even if she hasn’t begun menstruating, we want her to marry. We do not want her to have sex out of wedlock, and this is the best answer to prevent that from happening.”
Upon further questioning about the tradition, I discovered that this grandmother prepares the young girls of the community on their wedding day. She tells them everything to expect and reminds them of their duties as a wife: “on this wedding night, be sure to do everything your husband asks. It may hurt, but just stay relaxed and do not resist.”
Baffled, I kept my cool, trying to not imagine a little girl, my son’s age, legitimately “raped” for the first time in her life (yes, that’s me being non-anthropologist-like, western, and truly judgmental). And yet I reminded myself that this woman is a product of her culture, and how as in so many cultures around the world it is often the women matriarchs that perpetuate repressive practices from one generation to the next, and that prevent girls from meeting their full potential… and in this case, their opportunity to live their childhood fully.