As promised, I would like to share another story with you where I experienced this clash between culture and Christianity. For this story I need to give some background. In Swaziland it is not illegal for a man to have more than one wife. This is not so common anymore, as the man has to pay lobola (which is like a bride-price) for each wife. This is usually in the form of cattle and depending on the wife’s background (or even surname), may even be up to 15 heads of cattle. It is therefore quite expensive to have a wife. In one of my congregations there was a man who had had three wives. The one wife I never knew as she died before I came to Swaziland. The other two women were members of our church but the man was not a Christian, although he did attend church from time to time. (When he died, a few years ago, we conducted the funeral, but I said afterwards that I had seldom in my life experienced so much heathen traditions as on that day.)
But back to the story. I think the man had about 16 children from the three wives (it may have been more). Many of them followed their father’s life-style. Throughout the daughters became pregnant, some while still at school and some of them had two or three children without being married. This situation left us with more questions than answers as many of these people were regular church-attenders and I am sure many of them are also truly Christians. But one of their daughters stood out from the rest. She was the one who had never become pregnant. She finished her schooling and then attended a teacher’s training college and qualified herself as a teacher. Somewhere along the line she met a male teacher and they fell in love and decided to get married. But she made the decision that she was not going to have sex with this man before they were married. At one point my wife spoke to her about her decision and she said that she had made that decision to set an example to her younger sisters who were still at school to show them that it was possible to live a pure life. We were very involved with them as they prepared for their marriage. Then, on the Friday night before the wedding one of the Swazi pastors slept over at our house. He had also spent a lot of time with this family and knew them very well. Around 10 pm he told us that he was worried about the girl and he decided to drive out to her house in a rural area of Swaziland. Eventually he only returned at about 2 in the morning. We were worried sick about what was happening.
It then came out that there are certain traditions which have to be followed before a Swazi girl gets married. What these are, I have never been able to find out. I know that a goat is slaughtered and that things are done with the skin and the blood of the goat and there are also some rituals where the person has to drink some of the contents of the gall bladder. What I am convinced about is that these rituals are mostly demonic in its source and this girl, because of her Christian convictions, then refused to take part in these rituals. But the father was putting increased pressure on her to take part in the rituals as this was their custom. This psychological pressure had been going on all evening and when my friend arrived at her home, she was at breaking-point and had given in and said to her father that he could do with her whatever he wanted. All that she desired was to get the night over so that she could get married.
For the next few hours my friend argued with the father and tried to pursued him to respect her wishes. It was long after midnight that her father eventually agreed that she could go to bed and that he would not force her to take part in these traditional rituals.
At the wedding the next day I felt a certain sense of pity for her father. Up to that time he had dominated the household completely. What he said was law and people respected his wishes. And now, for the first time, someone had questioned his authority and had also questioned the traditions which he and his forefathers had always believed in. When he handed his daughter over to his future son-in-law he had a meekness over him that I had never seen before. By the way, I saw this daughter a few years ago and she was still happily married, had a lovely family and still seemed to be setting an example of a Christian life.
I find that more young people are breaking with these old customs, some because they just feel that it makes no sense, but others because they realise that many of these traditions are in conflict with their Christian beliefs.