Unmasking ‘chiramu’, virginity

It seems they are many young women out there who are suffering at the hands of their babamukurus (brothers-in- law — sister’s husband), because of the “chiramu” tradition.

The chiramu and virginity issue has brought about some shocking revelations; a lot of these stories have been swept under the carpet in order to protect “families”. Here are some of the letters that I received;
l Greetings from the United States of America. I read your article in the Herald entitled, “Virginity and the Ugly Face of ‘Chiramu’” with deep sadness and I can relate.

However, to begin with, I ask that whatever you decide to do with my email, please I prefer to be anonymous because I care about my family members who I am going to talk about in this response.
The story I want to tell you is about my late young sister, whom we shall just call Edah. Sometime in the late 1990s, my other sister who comes after me (I am the eldest child and son in our family), invited Edah to come and live with her and her husband and help her look after the kids while she would be gone to make a living.

We will just call this married sister Marjorie. We will also just call her husband Toby. Marjorie used to go for business trips to South Africa and she still does so. The incident that I am about to talk about took place when I was living and studying abroad.

One day, when Marjorie was gone, Toby forced Edah to have sexual relations with him. Please note how difficult it is to even describe this matter as rape, but I insist that Toby raped my sister. She was quiet about it and Marjorie, her elder sister did not know anything about it.

Edah had a boyfriend whom she slept with after the rape incident, according to her (at least as I was later to be told by my mother). She became pregnant.

When my young brothers and my father demanded to know who was responsible for the pregnancy, and Edah revealed who it was, they confronted the guy (Nobert).

However, Nobert became angry and he went all over the village telling anyone who could listen that Edah’s family were trying to force him to pay up for a pregnancy that was not his. He charged that when he first slept with Edah, he found that she was a “highway” (nzira zvayo), akange akaboorwa kare.

Needless to say, my younger brothers were irked and they visited Nobert’s home to give him a thorough beating, more for spreading bad Press about our family than the attempt to deny responsibility for the pregnancy.

When my mother heard Nobert’s complaint, she quietly asked Edah about how she had lost her virginity and Edah tearfully revealed that it was babamukuru. When my mother told Marjorie, she was defensive.
She argued that her younger sister could be lying against her husband, but even if she was telling the truth, she, Marjorie, did not want her marriage to be destroyed by bringing such stupid charges against her husband.

Sometime later, Marjorie even insisted that her husband was denying the accusations to the point that he even suggested that my little sister Edah was trying to cover up for her promiscuity.

As time passed, my parents invited some aunts and ambuyas from my side of the family and Toby and Marjorie were summoned to a family court. Finally, Toby admitted doing wrong, but in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way.

I think a token payment was charged; forgive me now I forget the details because all I am saying here is how the story was narrated to me by my mum. It is over a decade since the incident happened, and it is now about eight years since Edah passed away. Nobert stood his ground and he never accepted the pregnancy, although when the child was born, he wanted to have parental rights.

Due to the fact that he has never held a decent job and that sometimes he spends time in jail, he has never really been in his child’s life; she is raised by my parents.
When my mother told me this story, she wanted to know what I could do as the eldest son who has not only gone “very far” with school, but who is also a clergyman.
The matter angered me so much that I wanted to go over to Toby’s place and use every way I could to get a sincere apology, confession, and recompense for this violation.

However, my mother stopped me dead in my tracks. She said if I acted radically, I would risk destroying my sister’s marriage. She recommended any other course of action, not the one I wanted to carry out. I have resented my brother-in-law for this and whenever I go home to visit my parents, I never visit Toby and Marjorie’s home.
Sometimes we bump into each other at family gatherings such as weddings or funerals, but even my greetings of him are just casual. My sister has complained to my mother about why I never visit her home anymore and my mother explained to her. I believe in forgiveness, but I keep feeling that if I visit Toby’s home, it would be a sign that I condone what he did.

I have a 13-year-old daughter now and I really do not feel that she should visit her aunt Marjorie because of the presence of this family menace. I could elaborate by telling another story about how he “married” my sister when he was just coming from another marriage.

I struggle everyday when I think about whether I will ever get proper justice for the late Edah. It is hard to put in words how emotionally wrenching this matter has been to me.
Maybe just writing this email to you is one way to find release, but yes, it is true, the ugly face of Chiramu on our virgin sisters is an evil that needs to be dealt with.

Thanks for listening.

Annonynous
I enjoyed reading that pathetic story about the adulterous acts that some people perpetrate all in the name of tradition.
It is basically unacceptable even to play around with amainini in the absence of family members. Mhombwe dzave kutora advantage yepast societies. Ndiani angade kurima gura?

Nemiwo varamu munazvowo. It was unfortunate that my pal is living in sadness, it is however, prudent for the dear fellow to realise that we do not marry to control people but to share what ever spoils remain after some vultures have scooped the flesh.

It is all about burying the past and living the present. So many people including myself would not worry much about virginity but more about communication.
Failure to communicate leads to such misunderstandings. Some marriages are hastily done to cover up the past. Yet others are for convenience. Study partners before you fall into permanent traps.

Annonynous

l It a sad story that you wrote. How can you forgive? How do you move on? I feel for the man. In my opinion, there is no way that man is ever going to experience peace and live happily with his wife.
It is a very difficult and painful position to be in. There is the constant presence of the babamukuru to bring up the bad memories no matter how deep they try to hide it.

Unfortunately society, not only the African, remember those girls who sell theirs on ebay and other online auctions, has placed such a huge premium on the virginity of a girl child and cares less about the male child’s.

Obviously, girls suffer primarily from their natural make-up where it is clearly visibly when they are deflowered unlike their male counterparts.

But this is the least of their problems, of great concern is that in most cases they are victims of circumstances; boys lacing girls drinks with drugs so they can rape them, vanababamukuru, mabhinya chaiwo and all sort of mishaps happen to them. Yet society is quick to judge them harshly whenever they lose virginity regardless of the circumstances.

Women need to be reminded that loss of virginity will not result in loss of its importance. It will always remain a central issue in any relationship. I believe, in the case of a loss, the best way going forward is firstly to work for secondary virginity and most importantly to disclose it to a potential husband before he makes plans to marry.

One needs to be open when discussing this issue and reveal the circumstances of such a loss. In so doing a woman gives a man a chance to decide what he wants to do.

When a man decides that he wants you as you are, do not let him have you before marriage. Please don’t. Chances are he will not marry you citing the same virginity issue.
I am aware the man will go like, “Ini ndinoda kutokuroora wakadaro ndini wawava kunyima asi vamwe waivapa.”

That is nonsense. Tell him those were the days of ignorance and now you know. It does not matter what he decides to do after that but that should not influence a woman’s decision.
In short, let your man know your situation but do not let him take advantage of it. Be very firm.

Annonynous

We will continue with this issue some other time as we would like to give other topics a chance to be heard , in the meantime please continue to send us your views, comments Joyce Jenje-Makwenda is a researcher, archivist, author, producer, she can be contacted on: [email protected]

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