Despite the world’s norm undeniably being ‘what a man can do, a woman can do too’, the Luba people, found in Central Africa and mainly the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have reserved only the men of their tribe a special seat at the infidelity table; married Luba men can see other women and not rain any havoc on their spouses or families.
In yesteryears, girl children were not granted the privilege to either go to school at all or further their education if they did go; women belonged in the kitchen. When their parents felt that they were of age, they would appoint them a husband or embrace any man presenting himself as a potential husband. That being said, many women found themselves in marriages against their will.
They knew that tshibindi which translates to infidelity, was an intolerable act to their men, and was the only thing that would have them sent packing. They therefore indulged massively in unfaithfulness, hoping to be sent away which indirectly meant freedom. Married women from Kasai-Oriental would cheat with men from Kasai-Occidental and vice versa, and this created a big feud between the two provinces.
“Generally, men are very jealous. They want what is theirs-their wives to be theirs alone. For that reason, they were constantly on the lookout for a way to ensure that their wives would not be unfaithful, even in their absence,” said Mr. Herman Kabongo, a Luba culture and tradition specialist.
One thing led to another and the matter was brought forth before the kings of both provinces. In fear of the infidelity escapade going on, both kings were compelled to find a permanent solution that would bring back order to marriages in their respective provinces. They randomly selected ten men from both Kasais and assembled at the border separating the two provinces. The twenty men were then buried alive and a ritual in which both kings firmly uttered many words binding all married women to fidelity was performed. Thus was the beginning of Tshibawu.
Tshibawu is a fine or sanction that a criminal has to pay when found guilty before cultural judges in a cultural court. The ritual performed by the kings was intended to make Tshibawu the spiritual fine for women who committed tshibindi to firstly settle the feud between both provinces, and to bind married women to fidelity. Instead of being fined materially, the consequences of their actions would befall their spouses or families – there would either be severe financial troubles, fatal illnesses or sudden death.
Normally, infidelity is an activity that is done in complete secrecy; it is not something any woman would boast about. However, with regards to tshibindi in the Luba culture, the more the woman keeps her extracurricular a secret from her husband is the more danger she places her husband and children in. She might face death right after her action, if not, her husband or children will. They might experience all the consequences progressively until they eventually get to the final sanction – death. Nobody ever knows for sure what fate has reserved for them until it happens.
If the woman insists on keeping the truth from her husband, and he happens to suspect her of infidelity, he will alert his family and invite them over at his house. They will come with a chicken that they would have spoken a few words over, and require the woman to cook it. She will cook and serve the chicken and will not eat with them. If she is guilty of her husband’s suspicions, she will die instantly after or while they eat. Some families do this to a woman prior to marring her so that she can never dare to be unfaithful.
“It is very common for men to die for their wives’ sins. If a man is not hardheaded or does not have strong blood, his wife’s actions will have him killed. If he is and death skips her, then their innocent children will be the ones to pay. There is no escaping the consequences of your actions, especially when nothing is done to make it right.” said Kabongo.
A man who is told the truth about his wife’s infidelity ought to bring the matter and his decision to his family to see the way forward. If he chooses not to, he is considered an accomplice.
However, there is light at the end of the infidelity tunnel – redemption is a possibility. Once the woman comes clean to her husband and because of the love he has for her he agrees to forgive her and continue their lives together, he will bring the matter to his family and inform them of his decision. Depending on where they are all located, there are rituals that can be done as a process of redeeming the wife and their family.
In the village, the wife will present herself before her husband’s family and the elders of the village clothed in plantain leaves only covering her privates. There will be a few random women behind flogging and calling her out for what she did as she leads the way around the entire village. Everyone in the village will be aware of her actions, and she will be redeemed. After this ritual, she may return home to her husband and family, and no havoc will befall them anymore. The humiliation that comes with the redemption ritual is what pushes most women to keep their acts a secret; they would rather die unfaithful than live humiliated.
For those residing in urban areas, the process of the husband telling his family about it will still take place, however, the only difference is that this time his family will seek an elderly traditional woman who is familiar with what is needed to help perform the rituals and ceremonies attached to redeeming the wife, and ensuring that their family will be set apart from having to pay the Tshibawu.
“In both scenarios, the wife’s family is kept at bay because of the shame they feel. There is absolutely nothing that they can contribute at the ceremonies,” Kabongo said.
Moreover, there is always a good side to bad things, and the good side to this matter is that Tshibawu instilled discipline and wisdom in the society of married women. It taught women that when they have accepted to be married, willing or not they need not look elsewhere. Just because you want something does not mean you can have it, or go out to get it. Women who have unfortunately undergone the harsh consequences of tshibindi are more than willing to share their experiences with other women because “one thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning,” and through this, many marriages are preserved. To this day, Luba women have been proven to be the most faithful spouses to their men, regardless of where they reside.