'Kanga Motema' is an influential cultural term in the Congolese community, used to encourage people typically women to sustain difficult periods in their relationships. This term is mainly used in the context of marriage. The direct translation would be "toughen up your heart" - encouraging a woman to show more resilience to hurtful things she may have been subjected to by her partner, often for the sake of saving her marriage and avoiding public embarrassment of everyone knowing there was misdemeanour in the relationship; keeping your dirty laundry private, so to speak.
The reasoning behind titling this post 'Kanga Motema FC' is to signify that the people who push this cultural belief onto women are usually categorizable by a couple of things: their age and/or their upbringing. Usually, imposing this sort of pressure onto women is a result of being "old fashioned" or extremely traditional in the beliefs that you have been raised with. In my view, this mindset comes with some arrogance in the sense that once someone feels like to "Kanga Motema" is the right thing for a woman to do, their minds are very rarely changed - they always believe they are giving the best advice. The "FC" is to connote that they are like one huge army of injustice, double standards and blind tradition. Despite this play on words and suggesting that Kanga Motema FC are like one huge team, another way I like to define it is the 'Kanga Motema Conscience'.
Many elders in our community are culturally against the idea of divorce and breaking a home. Yet the disparities between how many men walk out on their families with no repercussions, and allowed to make humanly mistakes that cost them their family; compared to how many women can express displeasure of their relationship and speak out against acts of sexual, physical, verbal and mental abuse from their partners. There is a huge lack of accountability taken by the community, to avoid labelling women who are trying to escape extremely compromising and even dangerous relationships as “problematic woman”.
This blog post will focus on the root causes of the Kanga Motema conscience and how our culture has negatively supported this belief. It is important to add here that I do not think this is exclusive or explicitly to the Congolese community, I have heard similar stories coming from multiple African countries and other ethnicities.
Many times, women in the community have been subjected to horrific treatment in the community, such as infidelity, physical abuse and this has even led to fatalities in the past.
A deeply upsetting story is one of the late Linda and her husband Francis. Linda, who was beaten severely by her husband constantly, had her life claimed by him in 2018 when he beat her to death.
Linda would have been too afraid to come forward and expose what her husband was doing, or find the courage to just leave, because she is the one who is likely to have been judged.
The gospel singer who has many hit songs in the Congolese gospel genre was caught in the act of cheating on his wife. He was physically caught in the act of doing it and only then did the wife reach her breaking point where she made a scene about it and exposed him. Before this, everyone knew Matou Samuel as being a talented gospel artist; no one would have associated him with ruining his home. But the whole time, his wife was living with his infidelity and even after catching him in the act, she was still harassed for being a problematic woman because of the way she exposed him.
Implications of Culture on Kanga Motema Conscience
After speaking with a few people in the community, I was able to gather some reasoning behind why circumstances arise where women are placed in pressuring and compromising positions. In these discussions many reoccurring themes were presented, including mother & son bonds, financial set up, behaviours of men and women and extended family.
Many girls in Congolese households are taught to be wife, whereas boys are not necessarily taught how to be husband. Don't shoot me. By this I mean how often we see girls being encouraged to undergo certain tasks in the house i.e. laundry, ironing, cooking, cleaning. Girls are encouraged not to sleep in too much, because it is not fit for a wife to wake up late in the day. Not to date multiple men even when they are single and unmarried, and encouraged to be reserved in how they socialise i.e. staying out late, sleeping out of the house etc. is frowned upon. The same pressure is not necessarily applied to men regarding practicing husbandly duties whilst still unmarried, to prepare for being an ideal partner to a woman. This contributes to the overall pressure that is put on women when their relationships are falling apart. If women are coached to do all the tasks, often when things go wrong- it is women who will be made to feel like they have 'failed'.
The transition between a mothers house and a wife's house. Some men have mentioned that men are not taking time to understand their role as a man *before they settle down*. Increasingly, more men are living with their parents until later in life, perhaps when they are ready to settle down with a partner. The interim period between being single, and then being settled doesn't involve a process where men are able to be by themselves and flourish. To some, it is key to do this *before* making the step of leaving their parents' house and joining a household with a woman. Furthermore, some men feel like its important to analyse what is expected of them as a man, which may involve knowing their strengths and weaknesses, how they would go about raising children, how they can best support a family etc. The community need to encourage men to have this independence period more, before being handed from the cushioning of their parental homes, to the hands of a wife.
Financial Stability: Moving into women’s homes. This is not exclusive to the Congolese community, but I think it is a tight rope to walk on when men decide to move into the home of a woman. Women prefer feeling stable and they prefer to feel like their partner will be responsible. A key indicator in my opinion of a man who is "husband potential" is one that I can either build a home with together or one that has patterned a home for me to come in and nurture. I am of that view, and I am sure many other women are too - as traditional as it might sound. When a man opens himself to moving in to a woman's home, he becomes more vulnerable and susceptible to questioning by the women and maybe her friends and family. This is not a healthy element in any relationship, and will make the man feel uncomfortable, to the point where he may reject other responsibilities he has in the relationship. To link this back to Kanga Motema conscience, the build up of this situation can lead to a woman becoming fed up but having to "kanga Motema" to sustain her relationship. Which brings me on nicely to the next point; men unlearning flawed behaviours, so that a woman does not need to draw them out.
Men need to unlearn certain behaviours. There are flaws that men, just like women may not want to face, an example may be the previous point we raised where maybe they are not holding their end of the bargain. Often, if a woman corrects a man time after time and keeps drawing at his shortcomings, men can lash out at women when they try to show them where they’ve gone wrong. To many this might just look like a communication issue, but this is a problem in our culture where a lot of the time, talking back to your husband and being very outspoken in your relationship is frowned upon to avoid upsetting the man. What should a woman do instead then? Kanga Motema.
Family making contributions to weddings. In the community, marriage is usually not just between two individuals but between families and clans. Nowadays family members take pride in offering a helping hand and playing a big role in a marriage ceremony. This often puts pressure on the couple to make the marriage work especially from a traditional point of view. If a woman allows many people to forego their money, time, resources towards their marriage, often they may be met with the comeback “don’t let my money go to waste!” when they mention wanting out. They may feel like if people have contributed to their marriage they obviously believed in it. They will not want to let their family down, so they do what? Kanga Motema. There is also a flip side to this which can cause many family members to be working and even overworked during the process of a wedding; they don’t actually have time to enjoy it or be in the moment. Sometimes, family members can end up feeling like your wedding was a burden to them because of how much time, effort and energy. They can take a “if I didn’t do this, there would have been this” approach to the wedding and this can make them resent the couple if they did not make things work. In turn, the woman may feel forced to subdue her emotions to keep everyone happy.
Boundaries between the mother and the wife. Many men can feel like it is crucial to sit their mothers down before entering their marital homes, and address certain things. One being that they would ask for her to respect their space once they become husband to another woman. Mothers can be very influential in relationships if boundaries are not met. Because a mother is attached to her children for life, when the prospect of her child being taken from her arises - there are many things that can worry her subconsciously. Unintentionally the mother can inflict these worries onto her son, who can wrongfully start to reflect the worries of his mother in his relationship. This is extremely common in homes where men have not quite been able to connect with a father role - model. Psychologists such as Sigmund Freud coined the term the Oedipal concept to describe this borderline unhealthy relationship with his mother because he rejects other male role models. Freud's analysis is more extreme, but it can be used to explain psychologically how men can carry baggage from the home into a marriage with a woman, and how this can result in the woman being outnumbered and lacking a support system.
I hope you have found this blog post to be insightful! I know it may be a bit controversial but it is a conversation in the Congolese community that needs to be started and continued. Women should not have to suffer in the relationship because of imaginary shame that their culture would inflict on them. We need to progress. For the sake of men, women, and the children they will raise for the future. Instead of encouraging women to 'kanga motema' - lets start having the necessary conversations with everyone who plays a part in relationships failing, starting with the men who often get away with extremely deviant behaviour in relationships; knowing that the blame for the breakdown will surely rest upon the woman.
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