17 Oct 2013 08:50am
By Tjikunda Kulunga
OPUWO, 17 OCT (NAMPA) - The chief of the Otjikaoko Traditional Authority, Uziruapi Tjavara on Tuesday strongly defended the customary practice of sharing wives with friends, despite its high potential to spread HIV/AIDS.
The practice is common among OvaHimba and OvaZimba communities in the Kunene and Omusati regions, and is referred to as Okujepisa Omukazendu .
Sharing wives is a unique traditional custom that smothers jealousy amongst both sexes, and strengthens friendships. Hence, I advocate for its continuation, together with HIV/AIDS education to minimize infections, said Tjavara.
He made the remark at Opuwo during a debate about the issue on the national otjiHerero radio service of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).
The custom states that an OvaHimba or OvaZimba husband, when visited by an esteemed friend and as a token of admiring his friend, would inform his wife that she should sleep with his friend that night.
If there is no other house or room, the husband has to sleep outside.
This practice, Tjavara said, has resulted in less violence against women in the OvaHimba and OvaZimba communities in the Kunene Region, compared to other regions where cases of passion killings often occur.
According to the chief, the woman may as a sign of respect to her husband not refuse to share a room with the man she is given by her husband, but she may refuse to share a bed if she is not interested in the man.
That is acceptable, he noted.
On her part, the wife too can offer her girlfriends to her husband to go to bed with them as a sign of friendship.
For his part, the headman of Oukongo Village, Uomiti Ruhozu said HIV/AIDS should not be used as an excuse to discontinue the ancient customary practice of sharing wives.
He said HIV/AIDS can also be contracted by cheating spouses not in open relationships.
According to Ruhozu, most men and women in Namibia already have more than one partner whom they meet secretly, but the OvaHimba and OvaZimba men take away that secrecy aspect to relieve their wives of stress and the fear of being caught cheating, and also to make sure that the friendship between the two friends grows from strength to strength.
This honour of being given a man by her husband is done at the free will of the woman, knowing that the man I am giving her could be her secret boyfriend.
Because I do not want to break the friendship with this man, I give permission for them to see each other freely, explained Ruhozu.
However, Reverend Daniel Muharukua of the Mission of Christ Church said despite other good influences the practice may have had on the community as being advocated - like minimizing jealousy or other things - the fact of the matter is that it exposes the community to HIV/AIDS, and should thus be discouraged.
He said given the fact that the OvaHimba and OvaZimba men are married to many wives already, once one of them is infected with HIV/AIDS, the other wives are also at risk of getting infected with the virus.
The Programme Analyst for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Namibia, Cloudina Venaani said women in these practices do it to obey their husbands and not out of their free will, which will lead to emotional pressure and stress in their lives.
She thus proposed that such women should be consulted in the process, and that their rights be considered.
Amon Ngavetene, the project coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), who initiated the debate, said the aim of the dialogue was to assist traditional leaders in understanding the inter-linkages between customary laws and practices which render rural women and young girls vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
He told Nampa that another objective of the project was to seek a possible repeal and/or amendment of any of those customary laws and practices which render rural women and young girls vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
At least 60 chiefs and headmen from different recognised as well as unrecognized traditional authorities in the Kunene Region attended the debate.
Other dialogues with traditional leaders of the Kavango East and West Regions on the inheritance of wives of diseased relatives would also be held in the near future.