Yesterday evening one of my children had their first child. They sent me through whatsapp a picture of themself holding the new born baby in their arms, and the words: Tatoti mauya Mwoyo (we have already welcomed Mwoyondizvo). Mwoyondizvo is our praise word, being of the Rozvi clan, Dhewa Bvumavaranda; some go as far as saying ‘varidzi venyika’ (owners of the land) perhaps deriving from the historical Changamire Dombo fame. So, this little one is standing on the shoulders of giants.
This morning I shared the good news with my neighbours. When they asked me whether it was male or female, a boy or a girl, I told them that I did not ask that of my child in question, which was true; I did not ask the question. When I received the news, I convinced myself that it was neither here nor there whether it was a boy or a girl. I was just happy for myself, for them and for everyone in the circle. Because a child is a child, so my inner self said.
The neighbours went on to ask why I had not asked the question, I said to them ‘what does it matter whether it is a boy or a girl, does it diminish the fact of the baby and does it make me any less or more happy whether it is either or’. Of course there was no answer to that, for my happiness was mine, not theirs. Instead the response came in form of another question, a shocker at that, especially given the disgusted ‘perplexion’ on the face of the asker: What kind of a grandfather are you who does not ask if it’s a girl or a boy? Externally I laughed it off, putting up a brave face, while my mind scrambled for a response. It came up with something like ‘Well, this one!’ kind of pointing to myself, but there was no time for my mouth to form it. They were all laughing, and other scenes took over the stage.
Traditionally people value male children more than female ones. The rationale used to be that the male children would perpetuate the clan while female ones would only add value to other clans by marriage. This view was held most strongly by male members of the clan. Those men with many boy children would pride themselves for their ‘impressive’ achievements, while those without or with only a few would just lick their wounds.
I think my father was one of the victims of these wounds. On quite a few occasions when I was young he would remark, with a sigh after some rumination, and a facial expression exuding with wishful admiration: Nhingi uya une magomana mhani, xa! (That so-and-so has these big gangling boys!). Of course there is no way I can recreate those moments for you given my limited vocabulary. But the picture of his typical posture whenever he said this, his facial expression and the sound of his voice are all clear in my mind as I write this; it’s like he is right in front of me and saying those exact same words in the exact same way over and over again. And I a little boy, not privy to his inner world and limited of life experience, sat there busy picturing what his mind’s gangling big boys were like, often picturing one of the local boys I knew.
It’s not like he himself did not have boys. At least I was there. But in hindsight I think the issue had to do with comparison with his brothers or some colleagues, or with the age and proportion of his boy children to his girl children. For at the end of his fathering stint stretching over some thirty years, he had a balanced team of seven a side. Not a bad return, a passerby would say. Unfortunately the team was led by two girls, followed by two boys (my big brother and I), then three girls, some sputtering down the line before it was tailed by two boys, all in single file. Definitely not a good showing at a time when ‘gangling big boys’ were in ‘demand’.
Well, I don’t think they are in demand any more. Today’s society is a far cry from what it was when my father was on the trail. While biologically it is still possible that male children help to perpetuate the clan in a patriarchal society such as ours, I wonder if people still place a premium on that. I think people are now more concerned about their quality of life. On average, people now work with target numbers. If by the time the score is reached it’s a one-sided team, so be it. There now seems to be a high degree of acceptance for girl children if not a shift in preference. Female children are rising in value to the family more than male children, not because of the over-the-top lobola that some opportunistic if not out-of-sync parents charge their in-laws for ‘taking’ their beloved daughters on whose education they spent a fortune, but because of what they do for their parents.
Recently one of my other neighbours said girl children are more preferable these days because they take care of their parents better than boy children. They went on to explain how boy children go for good, sometimes waste themselves away and never look back to their parents. They rounded off their theory with ‘but the girl child never forgets, however wayward she might be’. And the other day I found myself co-walking with two strangers who seemed to corroborate that theory, going as far as to give percentages of probability to support the theory. If these sentiments are anything to go by, there seems to be a shift from focus on clan perpetuation to considerations of security in economic hardships, old age or infirmity. Thus the new trend seems to be that instead of worrying about what will happen to my name after I am gone, I would rather focus on what happens to me while I am still here. Whether or not this is statistically the case on the ground is a matter for social scientists.
I do not know if my neighbours had any preference on the sex of my grandchild, or if they thought I had any preference. But the question of the sex of the child is one that is often if not always asked upon receipt of such news. Because of that, they are forgiven for instinctively quizzing me about my credentials as a grandfather just for not asking the question that they and many other people take for granted. Unfortunately thanks to their otherwise good-natured selves I remain saddled with a tricky question whose slippery answer defies all my ‘unteething’ grandfather faculties to fathom.