Preferred Citation: Swartz, Marc J. The Way the World Is: Cultural Processes and Social Relations among the Mombasa Swahili. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.


10 A Wife is Clothes Family Politics, Cultural Organization, and Social Structure

1. In fact, cultural organization is not exactly the "result" of cultural distribution since the latter is partly as it is because of cultural organization. The nature of the relations among cultural elements is affected by the expectations in statuses and their roles since, in part, the expectations in relationships preclude following some understandings in favor of following others and require that yet others never be allowed to guide behavior in the relationship. In this and related ways, cultural distribution affects cultural organization. At the same time, the cultural elements are distributed among statuses, in part according to what is understood as more, less, and not at all appropriate for the different categories of people. This last is clearly a case of organization influencing distribution. Some cultural organization is governed by understandings alone and has nothing to do with their distribution (e.g., it is always better to be healthy than sick), but that source of organization aside, it is probably true that cultural distribution and organization are always in interaction.

2. Stroebel (1979:57) seems to interpret the proverb that opens this chapter to mean that a woman's clothes are among the things she can expect from her husband according to Muslim law. My slightly different view is that the proverb is used to mean that just as you cannot have a banana plant if it is not weeded, you cannot have a wife if you fail to provide clothes for her, and, in both, the requirements are taxing.

3. Holland (1987:240-243) reports a general tendency for the American college women she studied to exhibit more intense emotion about both gender types and school types than the men she studied did. Even if this difference in affectivity is generalizable beyond Holland's study, there may still be differences between her American college students and the Swahili in that the latter not only expect women to be more

emotional than men but they also say they should be, whereas that may not be so for the American sample.

4. Active relationships among women from different neighborhoods and, even, from different parts of the same neighborhood have become less frequent and less important over the period from 1975 and 1988 during which I did fieldwork. With the decline of large weddings, the occasions for large groups of women to gather have become less common, and the greater unwillingness of people to venture into the streets of Old Town, especially at night, has added to this.

5. During World War II, I was told, there was a pro-German baraza that devoted much of its attention to news or speculation indicating that the Germans were winning the war. This baraza began to break up after D day and was no more before the Allies crossed the Rhine. Despite some considerable proportion of the community favoring the British and their allies, there seems not to have been a particular pro-British baraza. This may be because most of the news-oriented barazas were mainly pro-British anyway.

6. There is a proverb that is mainly used by women who would like to stay and chat with a neighbor but are forced by the necessity of their household tasks to leave: Mwenye kibiongo halali kwa tani : The hunchback does not lie on his back; i.e., unavoidable necessity prevents one from doing what one wants to do.

7. This is one of those findings that needs to be handled with care. Sons who are willing to talk about relations with their fathers thereby demonstrate their rejection of the understandings holding that family matters should be kept strictly within the family, so that, given the importance assigned these understandings, few of them are likely to be among those deeply committed to the family as a group. This does not mean their information is false or worthless but only that it must be recognized that it comes from a rather special sort of family member and must be looked at together with other data.

8. There is some disagreement in the community as to whether saying, ''You are not my wife" three times constitutes a divorce regardless of whether it is said on the same occasion or whether each talaka (pl. talaka , as the divorcing statement is called) must be pronounced on a quite different occasion, normally a different day. In both cases, the reason there must be three, informants report, is that it would be wrong to divorce a wife in anger and the multiple talaka help ensure serious and enduring intent.

9. As noted in chap. 4, Stroebel's (1979:88) estimate of the divorce rate is one of every two marriages. Her estimate was arrived at in a way quite different from mine.


Preferred Citation: Swartz, Marc J. The Way the World Is: Cultural Processes and Social Relations among the Mombasa Swahili. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.