Sadly, African culture is being forsaken. The traditions and customs that have helped to guide us in the past have been replaced by Western culture. It’s a steep price to pay for modern conveniences. But there was a time when a cultural system existed to check many issues we see today.
There is this emerging trend of fathers demanding for DNA tests for every child in their homes. Let me give you some background knowledge on the Ameru culture.
In Meru, married men were allowed to keep concubines. These women, called ‘Bankiro’, were already married to other men. The Bankiro is a term that may sound familiar if you live around Meru. It’s usually an elderly woman’s term of endearment for another woman.
Meru men, traditionally, consider a concubine from amongst the wives of their age-mates. This is especially true for those who share a circumcision date with them. Additionally, this isn’t exclusively a Meru tradition. The Maasai would also have a similar arrangement. It’s how the Maasai phrase “Planting the spear” came to be. The message was clear: Someone else is busy attending to the woman.
A Moran came home after a long week of herding camels and goats — and if he found a spear in front of his door, he would not interfere. Remember, only a few Morans would be left behind to guard the Manyatta and they had important duties to uphold.
Morans respected a planted spear. They were supposed to walk away. He wouldn’t wait in hiding to spear the guy warming his wife’s bed.
In Meru, concubines shared a special bond. They danced together at village fairs. They exchanged millet recipes. They swore each other to secrecy about their shared men. They shared kids.
Bankiro – Benefits
So why were Meru women encouraged to have kids from different men, while already married? There were many reasons for this, but one of them was lineage.
1. Protection from Curses
Different families believed that family curses were passed down from generation to generation. The Imenti tribe called these curses – ‘Iciaro’. The same are found in all the other sub tribes and clans.
It was believed that in the event of such a curse, children sired by a concubine (Bankiro) could survive because they didn’t carry the blood from the cursed family line.
2. Genetic Disorders
Another benefit from this extra marital arrangement touched on genetic diseases. A married woman siring kids with different men protected that lineage of genetic diseases. Say, a family with a mental illness history would have one child out of risk.
3. Lineage ‘Upgrading’
In a typical Meru village, in a family of “idiots”, you’d find a really smart kid. In a family of tall, dark people, you’d find a shorter, light-skinned person with an athletic build.
The ‘Bankiro’ arrangement was believed to be the best way to upgrade a lineage, maybe the intelligence levels or some physical traits.
It is for such benefits that no Meru man would harm his wife because another man has sired kids with her – while she’s married to him. No man discriminated kids sired by a concubine (Bankiro).
4. Solution to Impotence
Impotence was an issue in traditional African society, where all men were expected to become strong and powerful. This expectation created a culture of shame around impotence.
In a world of secretive sexuality, a man who did not live up to the expectations was ridiculed and looked down upon by both friends and family members.
However, with the ‘Bankiro’ arrangement in Meru, no man passed away without kids.
In the event that a woman was married to an impotent man, the family would hold a crisis meeting. They’d pick a man from the family who’d sire kids with his wife – on his behalf.
It’d be forbidden to speak of it. No outsider would know of this arrangement. The impotent man would bring up the kids as his own. Everyone would sleep happy.
Oh, there were no divorces in Meru at the time. Admirable, right?
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