There are two sides to the mahali debate.
Some say it must be abolished because the tradition has lost everything it is meant to stand for. There is a feeling that this tradition has become about greed and not about relationships between families, as was the original intention.
Some say we cannot abandon this custom because if we do, we lose everything that is African about us. These are the people who are fighting against what they view as the increasing Westernisation strangulation of African customs.
They are opposed to the view that what is African is barbaric and that which is Western is civilised. The point is, both sides of the argument make valid positions.
People who do not understand the concept of mahali seem to think it is about purchasing a wife. There is no such thing as buying a wife when it comes to mahali.
Those who call it a sale, as though one goes to Mr Price to pick a woman for the right price, are completely mistaken as to what this is all about. The original intention of mahali was to create a bond between the two families –– that of the bride and of the groom.
Unfortunately, as many of us know, mahali has really lost its way. It has lost all meaning. The girls’ families often ask for too much, negotiations take a while, sometimes to such an extent that the relationship between the couple breaks down beyond repair because of unreasonable demands made by the bride’s family.
Tempers flare, insults are exchanged, egos are hurt, engagements are called off. In the end, what was meant to be the beginning of a lifelong family gathering is broken beyond repair.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was on the verge of marrying a girl who had been known for her, well, liberal exploits with boys during her high school years. I asked him about the mahali negotiations and he said to me: “Bra, they are asking for a lot of money. The problem is these girls’ parents don’t know of their precious daughter’s escapades.
Now they think they can ask for these insane amounts of money.” Six years later, neither of them is married.
My friend moved to another country.
A lot of women are in support of this custom. One finds very few opposed to it. The argument that is often raised is that they are well-educated, they have been raised well and all sorts of things that are included in the negotiating process.
I always fail to understand this logic; raising a daughter well is not so that she can find a good man, it is so that she can be a great human being. An education is to benefit her too; it is not there to serve her future husband.
The argument for the abolitionists states that as a young man about to start a family, you must pay up and at times, insane amounts of money for your future bride. And to make matters even more complex, there is the engagement-ring and the wedding rings that must still be bought.
Then there are the massive weddings. Yes. Weddings. The traditional and the Western weddings. Those cost money too. By the time one has settled down, one hasn’t settled the wedding debt. How is one to start a happy family under these circumstances, they ask themselves? Is it time to move away from mahali?
Others believe it is as part of our culture as the sun rising from the east. It is the way it is.
It is the way it has always been, therefore, it will be that will until the end of time. The argument here is that no one asks for the church to be abolished simply because it has been misused by some.
They want to hold on to culture, although a majority of them can’t even explain what they mean by that. They speak about honouring what has been done before even though it is not done in the spirit that honours those who came before.
Let’s face it, mahali has become about greed. It has become about what the bride’s parents can get from the groom. I was once told of a family that asked for a Mercedes Benz E Class from their wealthy future son-in-law. He bought it.
If we are to continue honouring the tradition of mahali as it ought to be, it should be practiced with the original intention. It must stop being the farce that is has become. We have come to disgrace it; our ancestors would never recognise it for what it was meant to be. There should be some sort of mahali classes to teach us all what it really is about because it goes beyond just negotiating what I want you to pay for my daughter.