Culture & Marriage: My Favorite Niece & Her Grandma Fires Back!
A few days ago, I wrote about my favorite niece and her shying away from her grandmother’s chastisement. Her grandmother wants her to marry as soon as possible. She refuses. In fact, she refuses to pick any suitor presented to her, and she refuses to meet with her grandmother, often citing one excuse after another. This has become a serious family issue. For one, my favorite niece is not the one escalating the issue. Her grandmother is!
And what’s Grandma’s reasoning? No doubt, my niece has come of age—as in she’s reached the ripe age of 20 – 30 years, and according to Ntoaboma Tradition she must marry, or she brings shame to the family. I will probably explain the kind of shame we speak of in a minute but bear with me for a moment. I had a conversation with my favorite niece—I am not ashamed she’s my favorite, for, I can be mad-brutal to all my other nieces just like that.
Frank is all.
Now, I agreed in principle with my niece that a video she had seen on YouTube claiming that men benefitted more from marriage may be true. I illustrated, and presented this illustration to her on her father’s front porch, that the claim does not even have to be true or false. That the Youtuber who spoke fluent English and Wolof was a species belonging to the class of The METHA (the Mis-Educated Than Her Ancestors). What she claimed had been discovered long ago. That even if it were true, it was no discovery.
I met with my niece’s grandmother after the effect, and it became clear to me that it was her duty to see “this thing through.” She refuses to die until this girl marries and births some great-grandchildren for her. I comforted grandma that I understood her position, being an Ntoaboma man myself, after all. However, I insisted she told me why she had decided to make a meal of the whole thing.
And there it was—she has overhead my niece speak of certain neoliberal ideas: Saving the world, global village, individualism, feminism, and such new-age neocolonial ideas. Grandma’s views and Ntoaboma Culture and Traditions are diametrically opposed to these theories. In fact, Grandma finds them not only counter-productive, but grossly inconsistent.
For instance, one cannot speak of individualism and of saving the world? How does that work—you want to be selfish and compassionate at the same time—she asks? How does helping on matters affecting women square with feminism, the very erasure of womanhood as we know it in Ntoaboma—how does that work—she asks? How can one speak for Ntoaboma culture, even for African culture and then turn around to speak for the erasure of the same thing in a Global Village—how does that work, she asks? And so on…
Her issue is simply this: “The thing that we call humanity,” Grandma explains “is nothing more than compassion. Seen from the eye of compassion, there is no one to be disliked. Even the person who has sinned in your village is to be pitied all the more. In compassion,” Grandma insists “there is no limit to the breadth of one’s heart. There is room enough for all. But this is not what feminism, or individualism espouses. They shirk the basic tenet of our humanity—they take for granted our compassion. That whatever that we do should be done for the sake of the family, the village and for posterity. This is great compassion. That the wisdom and courage that come with compassion are real. That’s what makes us human.”
Brace yourselves. Grandma leans over to me, and softly she whispers: “Not choosing to marry and to give your grandmother some great grandchildren is not compassion. It is something else. It is grotesque selfishness—that kind of individualism and self-worth that my niece learned at university. She’s never loved anyone, nor has she had any real compassion for anyone. But we’ve loved her, and we have shown great compassion for her! And how does she reward us? She sniffs at us, our culture, our history with her individualism? How does she know what’s her self-worth? What is she without this village? Who is she without Ntoaboma? I will tell you: Nothing! Narmer, I said nothing!”
In ending Grandma insisted: “The right or wrong of a person’s way of doing things, which this generation of university people are so obsessed with, are only found in trivial matters. Compassion is not a trivial matter. Family is not a trivial matter. The village is not a trivial matter. And certainly our posterity is absolutely not a trivial matter. How about them? Do they not deserve our compassion?”
I said to Grandma, I understood. I promised her I will speak to my favorite niece. “Or else,” she retorts quickly. “Or else!” Pointing her finger at my chest and looking me dead-straight in the eyeballs. And I know what that means… at least in Ntoaboma.
I will speak to my niece is all.