Sibling rivalry, there’s no winning

Roaming with Prudence
Some very informative feedback from a valued reader, Shamiso, who had this to say in response to my question about why the family unit has gone to the dogs:
“Hie Prudie, I was so touched by your Sunday edition concerning family values, rating each other by our achievements in life. Other contributing factors are, for example, you are the youngest boy in the family and, by the grace of God, you achieve more than your big brothers, the big brothers don’t like it, they start to accuse the young brother of having a chikwambo because they believe that big brothers achieve more than young ones. What I am saying, siblings don’t appreciate each other’s talents and achievements, and they badmouth their young ones with parents and, as a result, parents take sides.

There are also cases where a child is born out of wedlock and he/she is treated like an outcast and failure, if she does good in his/her life it becomes an issue. Better I live my life with my family to avoid such situations. To all parents, please don’t gossip about one child with another because gifts differ and appreciate your child as he/she is.”

Now I don’t mean to dwell on a topic for too long, but in all fairness I think the overwhelming responses from readers show how dear such a topic is to their hearts. Shows how deep feelings and emotions towards this issue go, and how many families are affected by it. My question remains, how do we solve this? Whilst sibling rivalry may seem to be a trivial issue at first glance, when you really think about it you will find that either in your family or in another one very close to you, family members are rated according to their status. And no matter how the poor black sheep tries to be opinionated, independent and be their own person, they are still typically held down by the more successful one.

In a twist of events, it also happens that the black sheep of the family is not necessarily entirely innocent of all this rating and judging and comparison. Whilst he/she is treated as the underdog, he also consequently begins to detest the other sibling, possibly becomes jealous of them and eventually, like the above reader suggests, start spreading theories of the said sibling having goblins and other supernatural means of making money.

Having a fairly comprehensive anthropological background myself and knowing that contrary to certain Christian denominational and other popular beliefs, sorcerers, sangomas and witches and such like actually do exist, I would not be one to dismiss such theories about wealth that has been accumulated in a suspicious manner. A sorcerer, by definition, is basically a ritualist who uses certain animals and symbols that they believe are a means to an end, both positive and negative.

From my studies the most common of these with African sorcerers are the python, hyena, and owl — which quickly brings to mind the recent incident in which a python was mysteriously dumped along Borrowdale Road in Harare. Lots of theories were flying about, with some assuming it was a case of juju gone bad, whilst others believed it could have been a pet or a house intruder. Whether sorcery actually works or brings them desired results, is entirely up to the participants to assess. Because of the high rates of poverty and disease in Africa, more and more people are becoming so desperate to be wealthy or be healed that they are stopping at nothing to achieve it. Which would explain why perhaps the not-so-successful members of a family would attribute their fellow sibling’s wealth to devious and dark means.

Such assumptions are even worsened if the said sibling happens to be younger in the family line-up. It is almost as if according to our society’s standards, the amount of wealth and success one accumulates should be equivalent to their age and not exceed their older siblings — it is almost “disrespectful” and will almost inevitably lead to tongues wagging. How many of you, dear readers, have been told, “waakuda kutitonga because une degree nemari?” (you think you can rule us now that you have a degree and have made money?)

And yet sometimes, you are just merely stating your opinion, independent from the fact that you have certain tertiary qualifications or a fat bank account. Whatever viewpoint the “richer” sibling has is distorted and brought down to “he just said that because he thinks we worship his money, which he probably went to a sangoma for anyway.”

I personally have heard this statement way too many times and it makes me wonder, have we become a nation of lazybones relying on magic in order to gain success? Does this “zvikwambo” theory hold so much water? Because I believe it would be a skewed way of looking at things if I dismissed the fact that some people, if not most, genuinely work hard for their own success and the result is obviously evidenced by the lavish lifestyles they then live.

It is rather unfortunate that in our society mostly if a young person, like the reader says, makes money and manages to run his affairs well, he is immediately labelled either a crook, cheat, or an expert in African dark medicine.

Worse still, if one happens to be an illegitimate child, a “bastard”, as society dictates, the situation they find themselves in is usually worse as they are naturally sidelined and left in the cold. If they then manage to make a name for themselves, the tongues do not stop wagging, “his mother drained our father of his wealth, that is why he drives that fancy Jeep.”

It would seem that we have sadly become a nation which simply cannot comprehend, let alone appreciate success. We almost always have to attribute it to something else other than the successful person’s hard work and determination. And in my opinion, this symbolises a bigger problem we are in denial of: jealousy. The less fortunate sibling cannot fathom how the other younger, more successful one made it in life. The latter, on the other hand, cannot stand his poorer siblings’ obsolete and “rigid” theories about life as he is more “emancipated.”

Is there any escape, dear reader? Is there any escape from comparison, from societal judgment, from being rated according to the next person’s achievements? Can the simple success of one sister be simply acknowledged and appreciated? In the same vein, can the ordinary poor brother be listened to? It would seem to me, dear reader, that the paradox of this whole life thing is that there is simply no winning after all.

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