Can’t we just bring back pre-arranged marriages?

12th September 2017


By Matshidiso Fologang

Match-making has been done for a long time among Batswana. For those of my generation and many generations before us have one way or the other been witness to the practice of pre-arranged marriages and marriages between the families than between two people. In a typical Setswana setup, very few marriages were a result of two people meeting under a tree in some isolated place somewhere in the village or bush. The parents were always watching their children grow to reach puberty and eventually the age considered ripe for marriage.

Once they thought the young women and men were grown enough to enter the adult life of marriage, they would identify a family that was known to be good and/or held in high esteem because of good behaviour. This was done even before the two would-be partners were ready. Today I remember a few instances I witnessed where some folks older than me and my age mates had their parents and relatives make arrangements for them to marry someone they never knew or even considered as potential partners.

Perhaps I should confess that I too at one point had my late mother identify some young girl as my future partner without my knowledge. There was this young girl in the neighbouring ward whose mother and my mother became very close. The friendship extended to all children in the two families. We were expected to share chores across the two families. I was naive and a bit innocent then.

I hardly noticed this close family interaction as anything else than just friendship between our mothers. As I grew wiser and started developing interest in girls, I never saw any of the girls from the other family as potential dates. This was despite the fact that one of the girls was almost part of our family. I saw in her a young sister who I had to frequently protect against predators (boys).

This girl was like a younger sister, did all chores for me like a younger sister would do for a bigger brother. This and many other activities brought us (me and her) very close. She became the little sister I never had. Our mothers encouraged it and still the boy in me never smelled the coffee. I was attracted to girls from other parts of the village. This saddened my little sister. She was my sister who was there all time and requiring my protection and brotherly love. She was well endowed and very attractive but she was still my little sister.

I was all the time at high school and soon she also went to a high school. She became even more beautiful. Still she remained my “little sister.” The first two years of high school turned her into a beautiful girl. My mother would time and again remark about her growth and beauty. I was naive and never did I realise she was brought in for me to see her as my future wife. I so failed the family. I sit here now pondering on what could have been, with even a more profound question of whether these pre-arranged marriages were a good thing. Should this tradition be revisited?

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