By Philip Thon Aleu
The scale of early marriages in South Sudan is being underestimated by outsiders but when girls are deceived to marry and get education after that, this is where it ends. She has to wait while bearing children.
This is the second part of an article that was first published in 19 August 2013: South Sudanese girls are a family asset (Part I)
Messengers were sent to inform Hon. Thon-Bai about the girl’s acceptance of the marriage. In the past, only one person, locally known as ‘Dutuc’, was sent but today there have to be two or more. Three men – in age bracket of 40—50 years) were sent as ‘Dutuuc’. The messengers arrived home on foot in the evening and the following morning, as is the norm, village elders and chiefs converged and the information was relayed.
“’Looth aa-mer (the nickname of Amer’s father) is asking for the date when the young men will come to see your wealth,” one messenger concluded.
The word “wealth” was used instead of just saying cows. In the past only cows were given as dowries but now you have to give thousands of South Sudanese pounds as well.
It was a brief meeting. The messengers retired to the guest house and soft drinks and beer flow in. At the end of hospitable stay in Hon. Thon-Bai’s village, the massagers were given 1,000, 700 and 500 South Sudanese pound respectively as appreciation for delivering the great news.
“We are one people and we ought to develop the relationship further by marrying from each other,” said John Dhuoi, an elder from Hon. Thon-Bai’s village.
When they returned to Agoon village three days later, a date was known when the young men will come to see the “wealth.”
On arrival to the Hon. Thon-Bai’s village, the young men from Agoon were received and accommodated well. The following morning Hon.
Thon-Bai and his group of elders, young men and women met and agreed to declare 200,000 SSP and 150 cows as the marriage dowry.
“There is no smart cow among your herd that will be good for the father of the daughter,” said the leader of young men that came to check the size of the “wealth” that will be used for dowry.
“Wun de nya” – for that is Dinka word for a daughter’s father, have to be certified first before any dowry discussion progresses.
“We understand,” a youth from the opposite bench replied and his group shift to another shade provided by a tree for a meeting that was joined by Hon. Thon-Bai. As a bridegroom, he has to be available and responsive to any call.
“50,000 South Sudanese Pound (SSP) (about $16,666 United States Dollars at a rate of $1=3 SSP).
After a long discussion, the visiting youth agreed for 60,000 to the father, 50,000 to the mother of the daughter, maternal uncle took 30,000 and grandfathers and grandmother on both sides of the daughter were entitled to share the reminder as 15,000 and 10,000 SSP respectively.
Before midday, the discussion was closed and the visiting youth were given respectively people to take care of their dowry demand. Each one walked away with at least a goat or its equivalent. Leading youths were given 500 SSP each.
“I think we spent close 10,000 SSP when you include all the other expenses,” said Chol, who led the group to Hon. Thon-Bai’s village.
“He fetched money like water,” he added.
When Marial, the bride’s father, was told net marrying dowry, his heart was beating very fast and inside his gut, he was burning with anxiety. But he could not tell from his face that he was happy.
“When are we going for the finally discussion of the dowry,” Marial asked.
“The guests will sent a massager,” said the youth leader.
A week later, a massager arrived and informed the Agoon village that they are being called by Hon. Thon-Bai to come in seven days.
Usually when a young man, his father has to send a massager but since Hon. Thon-Bai is marrying his fourth wife and he is a prominent figure, every massage is carried in his name.
“He went to Juba to make final preparations and these seven days will enable you to ready by then. He will send cars to transport you,” the massager said.
Under a shade provided by a big tree sat two groups sitting facing each as if they were negotiation a cease fire. Unlike political meetings, this one is unique.
In front of each group sat a man who recapitulates whatever is said from his side. When a cow is mentioned a dowry share for “wun de nya” or any other relative, two logs are knocked against each from the marrying side to indicate that the cow is given wholeheartedly and the other have to restrain it now. In the middle of the front row is where the daughter’s father sits and his brothers take their respective position depending on their seniority. Women sit on a mat in behind men on both sides and they don’t take during the discussion. The mother’s group chats with her bridegroom’s team differently later.
Each time there is a disagreement on the amount given to a relative Hon. Thon-Bai would intervene and rule there and then. He is a man who doesn’t want his in-law to be ignorant about his riches. In the past, each side would retreat for a meeting and come back with a compromising position characterized by funs and jokes to soften the discussion.
When the man is rich, it is easy to negotiate the dowry. Before midday, the cow – locally known as “biol”, slaughtered to bless the dowry discussion was slaughter.
When the group dispersed, there was high spirit and great praises but little curses from young men who travelled from towns to witness the dowry discussion for their Member of Parliament.
“It is good to marry from close people if you have something to give,” said one youth, enthused that the dowry given was huge and indeed to neighboring village.
“That girl was clever but with this marriage dowry paid, I don’t think she will have to waste her time in school,” another man commented.
“The man could not even glimmer with fear of giving this big wealth, he is rich,” said a surprised villager.
The following evening, the girl was brought and handed over to the family of Hon. Thon-Bai amidst dances and yelling of excitement from women.
“This is your family and I pray that God gives you children. We’ve eaten enough and we are happy. Your husband has given us what we called for,” Marial, the bride’s father, said during the handover ceremony.
The young girl dropping tears – nobody knows if they were for joy (for her new life) or sadness of losing her education.
Two years later, Amer gave birth to a baby girl in her new home rented in East Africa. She is waiting to ask to go to school. When attempted to inquire from her husband few days after the marriage ceremony, she was told to wait. After four months, she was pregnant and has to wait. She is still waiting.
“I will tell you when time is ripened,” said Hon. Thon-Bai.
Comment from the author:
Unless leaders in power – particularly women and the educated class, begin to talk freely about girl child’s education, it is a long way to go.
Philip Thon Aleu is a South Sudanese journalist. He is reachable at email@example.com