69-year old Hassan ole Kamwaro (right) stands next to his third wife, 23-year-old Eunice Sisian at his office compound in Nairobi on the 4th of November 2013. The couple got married on Saturday 1st of December in a traditional wedding in Olchorro Narok. This is the first time Eunice has been to the city of Nairobi. Photo/EMMA NZIOKA
Tuesday, December 10, 2013Resplendent in multi-coloured shukas and heavily adorned, the couple stood side by side in the sweltering heat, the bride looking somewhat distraught while the man exhuded pride and self-satisfication.
The two, former Transport Licensing Board (TLB) chairman Hassan ole Kamwaro, 69, and village girl Eunice Sesian, 23, had become man and wife at a ceremony that had brought to the fore the clash between modernity and culture among the Maasai, a community that has kept its customs largely intact in the face of Westernisation.
And last week, at his private offices on the ninth floor of Town House in Nairobi, we found Mr Kamwaro showing Sesian around the office.
As the head of the homestead, Sesian is now in charge of her husband’s three bomas — in Nairobi, Eor Enkitok outside Narok town, and the Olkeju Ronkai Lodge in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve — while his older children, including one aged 45, will call her Yeiyoo, Maa for ‘Mum’.
And to enable Sesian, wife number three, to manage his vast estate, Mr Kamwaro plans to enroll her for computer classes.
But she doesn’t have an identity card yet, she only went up to Standard 7, and this is her first time in the city.
Isn’t that going to be a problem?
MANY OTHER CONTENDERS
MANY OTHER CONTENDERS
No problem, Mr Kamwaro informs us. Those were the reasons he chose her in the first place!
“I did not want (a woman) with a lot of education like some in this town,” he says, referring to the modern Nairobi woman.
There were many other contenders, but Sesian was ‘the one’ for Kamwaro, who says he wanted somebody “who could take care of her children and those of my other wives” because “a family without guidance is no family”.
But Kamwaro, now approaching 70, is no spring chicken. So why did he decide to marry again?
“I was lonely,” he explains. “I needed company. My (second) wife left me when I was very ill.
I was undergoing treatment in Dallas, US, last year when she left.”
The treatment was for a neck injury he sustained in 2011 and involved an elaborate operation that cost Sh9 million and saw him bedridden for six months.
“I have been going through hell. Living without somebody to help you when you are ill is very difficult.
My children have been nursing me, but you know there are limits to what your daughter can do for you.”
To those who suggest that he should have looked for an older woman, Kamwaro, whose first wife died in a road accident in 1996, retorts: “I can marry any age.
I am a Maasai. Even in the Bible, David was given a very young virgin to keep him warm.
Though I am called Hassan, I am a born-again Christian and I know these things.”
UNDER ELDERS' ADVISEMENT
He says Maasai elders went to him and told him that he was doing badly and needed a companion, “so I went to her family and negotiated with her and we reached an agreement”.
But, how does his family view this marriage to such a young girl, given that his daughters are old enough to be Sesian’s mother?
“They respect her,” says Kamwaro, who is also an elder in his local AIC church.
“They were the ones who supported me during the courtship.
I did not pay even a penny; I only paid the customary bride price of five animals — three cows, a calf, and a sheep.”
He also paid an extra cow — as blood compensation — since both he and Sesian are from the same clan.
Mr Kamwaro says he has no hard feelings towards the wife who left him, and that he will educate her children to the highest level, but adds that she is welcome to return.
Although his unlikely union with the young girl raised eyebrows, the marriage has been endorsed by leading Maasai novelist and cultural expert Henry ole Kulet, who says it is “culturally perfect”.
“It meets the basic standards,” says Kulet. “First, she is not a daughter of a blood relative, and, second, 23 years is a ripe age.
In fact, what usually happens is that when your older wife gets old, they get you a young girl.”
Mr Kulet says the most important thing is not age, but the circumstances under which somebody marries.
“For instance, does he have a lot of cattle, and so on.”
AGE AIN'T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER?
Which begs the question: is age really just a number?
Little research has been conducted in Africa on age hypergamy, a marriage that involves a big age difference such as that between Kamwaro and Sesian.
Perhaps this is because of the way in which marriage is viewed in Africa, as evidenced by Kulet’s statement that the union is “culturally perfect” since the marriage “meets the basic standards”.
Dr Charles Muga, a sociologist and behavioural scientist, says people now marry the person “they think will make them happy”, a statement laden with meaning because it posits that, when it comes to love and marriage, it is all about the couple’s happiness first, not what the society thinks of their union.
Still, such relationships are likely to suffer a number of psychological challenges, particularly on the part of the woman.
A study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic research in Germany shows that the bigger the age gap between the woman and her husband, the shorter her life expectancy, regardless of whether she is married to a younger or older man.
Lead researcher Sven Drefahl argues that age hypergamy favours the man since he lives longer if he is married to a younger woman.
But while Drefahl’s study does not give the reasons why the age difference works against the woman, a Nairobi-based counselling psychologist, Ken Munyua, has clinical observations that might explain the difficulties that such unions might exert on the two.
For one, he notes, the man and woman are at different stages of their lives, which makes them “emotionally incompatible”.
“Both have expectations, which they will seek to fulfill to each other alright, but in very different ways that, unfortunately, may leave each of them disappointed,” he says.
An older man is likely to be driven by ego, more focused, eager to reap the fruits of his many years of labour and take pride in his accomplishments.
“He is looking for a person to care for his wealth and his idea of how to love a woman is ‘build her a good home, give her children and provide her with everything she needs’,” explains Munyua.
In contrast, the young woman would be seeking intimacy and a thirst to establish her identity.
She wants a man who can take her out, play with her, give her jewellery, remember her birthdays… things her much older spouse might dismiss as childish, or might not have the strength to take part in, Munyua continues.
MORE LIKE A FATHER
Because of the generational gap and deficits, an older man will just extend parental love to his young spouse.
“He will call her ‘Baby’ to mean ‘daughter’, but the woman wants ‘Baby’ to mean ‘wife’”, Mr Munyua says.
Nobody considers what is in it for her, save for the high society and privileged address.
Citing Sesian’s case, for instance, Munyua says she is being taken to school “to be able to run the businesses, not for her scholarly aptitude”.
“All she is ever going to do is work hard to prove she is up to the task and meeting people’s demands.
That is not the life for a woman in her 20s, no matter how early she might have matured.”
MEN HAVING HARDER TIMES
Mr Munyua’s observations echo those of American psychologist Gail Sheehy, author of Understanding Men’s Passages: Discovering the New Map of Men’s Lives.
According to Sheehy, men aged 40 and above are having a harder time today making a satisfying passage into the second half of their lives than are most women.
While women feel pangs over losing their youth, men feel dread, and it is harder to be their companion at this age because they are so used to being in control of their life that they might never talk about these fears.
Consequently, such men are confronted by a variety of forbidden subjects in this climate of uncertainty: their concerns about ageing, the ebbing of physical strength and athletic prowess, their fears of losing their economic empires, their envy and fear of empowered working women whom they could have wooed, their wish to be closer to their children before the children leave the nest, their retirement anxieties, and the whole question of potency in all areas of their lives.
But in Sesian Kamwaro sees not just a wife, but a companion who will fill a void so deep and hurtful.
And, for him, that is all that matters.