A story has been going viral on social media (particularly on Facebook) about the extravagant marriage of Nyalong Ngong Deng from Yirol.
I wrote about it in more detail in my very first article for Kukosha Media. I highlighted the issues around high dowry demands or offers; how that drives child marriage, cattle raiding and communal conflicts. The Western media also jumped on the news bandwagon, but they inaccurately reported that Nyalong’s ‘auction’ was taking place on Facebook, when in reality, it was just widely shared and discussed on the social media platform.
Of course I had been making a bit of noise about the marriage of Nyalong on both Twitter and Facebook. But what was striking was the male tears pouring out on social media against mine, and other women’s disapproval of the marriage. Critics of the marriage were called Westernised, educated, bitter, jealous, unmarried, over 30, short, ugly, bleached, unnatural, and the mother of all insults, slay queens. Besides the hurling of insults and other types of cyber bullying, there was also the age-old ‘it is our culture’ argument.
Walls of texts and essays about why Nyalong is getting married for 500 cows, and educated women are not, and why her marriage is acceptable, despite her being underage, had furnished my Facebook wall since the news broke in late October. I was inundated with abuse both in my inbox and publicly on social media, either directly or indirectly through statuses disparaging educated women and activists, who apparently are activists for self-gratification, and not the fact that real lives are affected by practices such as child marriage and dowry inflation.
Then there were the male allies, the ‘pick me’s’ women who said that Nyalong must become their husband’s second wife and that they will support the fight for her.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion even if their opinion promotes archaic ideas. But no one is entitled to be abused for their opinion, which is something the critics of Nyalong’s marriage, particularly the women, have been subjected to.
This entire situation made me realise that even as a Dinka woman, some Dinka men genuinely believe that I should have no say over my culture. Some Dinka men also believe that any criticism I have towards some of our cultural practices, stems from my upbringing in Europe and my British education. The irony with this, is that there are men and women, who have not even been exposed to the West or Western education, who disagree with the concept of hundreds of cows being given as dowry, cars given as a form of dowry, and child marriage and lack of freedom of choice for the girl to choose her husband.
See also, the fallacy around the idea that I should be unable to say anything about a culture that I am from, and about a practice (dowry) that is required in order for me to get married. This practice, affects me and my husband to be.
Some Dinka men have really decided that they are the custodians of Dinka culture, therefore they must fight every kind opposition, even fellow Dinka women who continue to be disadvantaged by some of the cultural practices. There is a real sense of cultural ownership by the men, and I don’t even blame them for thinking so, because many practices that we carry out are quite patriarchal and usually in benefit of men.
There was also another layer of irony around the men who were fighting tooth and nail for Nyalong’s marriage, and that is the fact that they cannot afford the 350 or so cows that was ultimately paid for Nyalong.
The debate about Nyalong’s marriage is not just about women being treated as a commodity for her male relatives to sell for-profit, it’s the fact that many young men, who are earning an honest living, are struggling to get married due to this dowry inflation.
The criticism of the marriage of Nyalong, especially on my end, was not an attempt at building a campaign to discard a social practice that has benefited and strengthened ties between families for centuries, but that there are fundamental issues with Nyalong’s marriage, and many other similar marriages in South Sudan. These are issues of lack of freedom of choice in choosing a life partner, being married at an age at which you cannot consent (under 18), and the high dowry demands or offers (in a poverty-stricken country). I discuss these issues in more detail in my Kukosa Media article.
I suppose the hard line response of some men against the critics of the marriage, stems from the fact that they are either the products or beneficiaries of such marriages, i.e. they married a child or their mother was a child bride.
The self-appointed custodians of Dinka culture must realise, that the culture does not belong only to the men. They must also realise, that the abuse of existing cultural practices, is damaging. The impact of dowry and child marriage, and its effects on the socio-economical conditions of South Sudanese, are highly visible. The impact is a big pink elephant in the room, that just cannot be covered with a sheet called ‘it’s our culture.’
It is high time that we address the negative impact of some of our cultural practices, and not just constitutionally through the laws of the land, but also at the grassroots through our customary laws, elders and chiefs.
Nonetheless, the male tears that have poured since the news broke out, were plentiful to make a nice cup of tea with. And on that note, I want to close this topic (until next time).