Mali is a country with a lot of population groups, each of them having their own historical background, some groups sharing some history. History that, although invisible to the eye, is still ingrained in everyday life.
It still being the habit that both the man’s and the woman’s parents have to agree on a marriage, the choosing of a partner comes with some extra challenges for many a Malian man. In April I wrote the blog ‘love in Mali’ explaining a bit on how things work in Mali. If those things weren’t challenging enough already, history may add some extra challenges.
Dogon for instance are highly protective when it comes to their culture and language. Dogon should for that reason marry Dogon. However in terms of a second wife an exception could be made, but no marriage with a Bozo can ever be accepted, related to a historical event, and the belief that it will bring bad luck to both families.
The son of a blacksmith family should marry the daughter of another blacksmith family.
And nobles should marry nobles.
Just to name a few…
One of my friends, Moussa, is a Dogon. He’s engaged to a Fulani woman, who just gave birth to their first child, a beautiful daughter.
‘So, what do your parents think of it?’, I curiously asked him recently after having met his fiancée for the first time.
‘When I was in the village recently, I explained them, and they are fine with it’, he told me. His family is obviously open-minded, accepting that times are changing and that their children take their own decisions.
It’s not always like that!
Another friend, Ibrahim, comes from a blacksmith lineage, meaning that officially he’ll has to marry a blacksmith’s daughter. His girlfriend, however, is Fulani. Of course both of them have known it from the start. However, if you like someone, hope may be around that both families are willing to make an exception.
Feeling the need to show his good intentions, and to make it clear to his girlfriend that it’s not just a nice affair, he talked to his parents. Generously his family granted him permission to ask for his girlfriend’s hand with her parents, making sure he was aware of the obstacles, but allowing him to make his own choice.
Knowing it would not be easy, he asked for the help of other people. In situations like this it is quite common in Mali to send messengers to the family of your girlfriend to talk on your behalf and to break a lance for you.
Unfortunately her parents are not willing to accept the marriage, based on a historical kinship between the two families.
I asked him how he felt about it and he slightly shrugged his shoulders.
‘That’s the way it is, I’m trying to keep my distance, even though whenever we’re on the phone we are really close.’
‘But what if you really love her and do want to marry her?’, I asked him.
‘Our families will turn their backs on us and we’ll be out on our own.’
‘Like it used to be in former times in The Netherlands, when people chose to marry someone of a different religion’, I said, adding that people nevertheless decided to do so, out of love for one another, conquering whatever challenge it would bring. Their brave decisions for sure have contributed to a change in the overall opinion over the decades.
He nodded, agreeing that change doesn’t come out of the blue and that it is up to the people to co-create it, to be part of the changes.
But who is willing to take the risk of the family turning their back on you when the entire society is family-based?
‘Monique, it’s different for you, I know that, but here it is still like that’, Ibrahim added.
He explained that even if both parents would agree on the marriage and even if he loved his girlfriend more than anything else in the world, he would never state at the civil wedding that she is his princess and that she will be his only wife.
With a faint smile on my face, already having heard several stories on the attitude of many Malian women, I asked him why not.
‘Monique, the moment I’ve stated to not marry another wife, she might entirely change, disrespect me and turn my life into hell. As long as there’s the possibility that I’ll marry another wife, she’ll be good to me.’
It’s still a question whether or not he’ll marry her one day. Her parents might change their mind. Maybe their love will be of a kind that makes them take the risk of being cast out. For now he’s trying to keep his distance and not unimportant: he has shown his good intentions!