Home » Health Services » Kupindira – – the Dilemma of Male Infertility [column]

“Kana murume asingaoni, oitwa sei nhai?” asked my cousin Piri, meaning, what can be done to help a man who cannot see?

The three of us, including my sisters from the village, Mai Kiri and Mai Marshal, smiled awkwardly and said nothing.

Piri sat on a chair opposite us, wearing black tennis shoes, her usual jean skirt and a red T-shirt with New York written across it.

Her short twisted hair was covered by a big orange and green headscarf in African style. She wore big shiny fake gold earrings and her nails were painted red with little white flowers drawn on the corners of each.

Piri forgave us for leaving her behind during our recent visit to Honde Valley to see our daughter-in-law’s family. We came back with so much farm produce which we shared among ourselves, and Piri got the lion’s share of the spiky cucumbers and pumpkins. To make up for leaving her, we gave her three big bottles of beer and some airtime.

We, the other mothers, sat on the mat, legs outstretched, talking about the generosity of our SaManyika relatives in the Honde Valley. Rufaro crawled around while Mai Rufaro was busy cooking the goat meat we had brought with us.

In between drinking her beer, Piri was texting on her phone furiously, saying she had to give counselling aice to a young woman that she had recently adopted as a niece because she shared the same totem as us, Chihera, the eland.

The new niece worked with Piri selling second hand clothes from the US and Australia. Piri said she had received a text message from the new niece who was facing a crisis in her marriage.

“Since she does not have an aunt here in town, I have adopted her as my niece,” Piri said.

We agreed that Piri had done a good deed. These days, it is hard to find an aunt or tete to confide in, especially on intimate marital issues.

Piri paused from her texting and asked: “If a man has lost his axe, what can be done to replace it?” Kana murume arasa katemo kake, oitwa sei kuti akawane?”

I looked at the others and we all laughed, checking there was no man within ear shot. This was women’s private space, to discuss a taboo subject like male infertility.

Piri talked about it only in metaphor. And that is the only way you can discuss the subject.

Going blind or losing an axe was a polite way to say a man was impotent or infertile. It was a subject never openly discussed in the village. Why bring shame to a man by speaking of his manhood that way? This was a serious matter because a man’s role was to increase the clan and produce sons who extend the line of lineage. If a man dies childless, he is buried with a rat.

In past times, soon after a marriage in the village, the family waited for a year to see a woman’s bulging stomach. The blame always focused on the woman if conception was late. After two or three years, the mother-in-law, aunt and other close relatives found ways to identify the problem. If it was the woman who was infertile, then her sister or niece stepped in to become a second wife to the husband.

Female infertility was solved that way. Male infertility was handled differently.

It was common knowledge that no one should ever know that a man might be infertile or impotent. A man was made to feel that he could conceive a child even if his sperm was too little or too weak to do so. The family protected him and hid his shame and feelings of inadequacy. The secret process of sending someone to do the job of providing seed to his wife, was called ‘kupindira’ or intervening.

There were some cases of male infertility when we lived back in the village compound. It was not news for children’s ears. But we heard that at one time one of our distant uncles was blind. He had lost his ‘axe’.

My grandmother, VaMandirowesa and other elders, discreetly spoke to our aunt.

They told her that her husband was blind but his cousin or brother from within the family was going to visit her.

“When the brother comes to knock on your door in the immediate future, open the door for him,” they said.

Our aunt went back to her maiden village and presented the problem to her aunt, tete vake.

Tete said, yes, that is how it is done to remove the shame of infertility from a man.

Over the years, our aunt had three children with her husband’s brother. This was a “secret” but everyone knew. It was just not talked about openly. The husband also knew of this solution but he turned a blind eye to it all. Because the children were related to him by blood, they belonged to him.

The children probably never knew who their real father was. That was the traditional way of resolving male infertility.

Piri put her phone away on top of the stereo system next to her and said, “Here is my niece’s problem. She married five years ago when she was already 30. Five years later, there is no sign of a child.

“The doctors say she is okay. The Apostolic Faith healers have told her that her uterus is in such good health and with the right seed, she can easily give birth to twins.”

Piri took one big sip from her bottle and belched loudly.

Piri said she knew an old lady in Chitungwiza who could turn a whole uterus to the right angle so that conception could happen. She used a complex process called kuuchika, she said. Everyone refers to the old lady as Ambuya. Piri said she knew of one 40 year old woman who was childless. The woman consulted Ambuya and she spent an entire month taking special herbs and living in Ambuya’s house. When she returned to her husband, the woman conceived immediately.

Another woman went to get treatment from Mupostori, the Apostolic Faith healers place.

She received prayers daily and drank holy water mixed with salt water brought all the way from the shore of Durban in South Africa.

Nine months later, the woman once infertile, had a baby crying on her lap, akakachemedza.

“That is a good story,” I said.

“But, in the city when infertility is no longer a family issue but a private issue, what can a man do?”

Piri stood up and lectured us all on solving male infertility.

Firstly, a quest for a baby always starts with the woman, she said.

“She must seek Western medicine first to make sure her eggs and tubes are in the right place. Then she must go to the old lady with miraculous traditional herbs in Chitungwiza. When that fails, then she goes to the Apostolic Faith healer. When everything else fails, a brother must step in, and help out, ” Piri said and sat down.

0″So, what is our niece, your friend, going to do?” Mai Kiri asked.

Piri said the plan was well underway, the mother in-law knew what to do. A very handsome young brother in-law had already been approached back in the village.

“What if the brother in-law is already married?” I asked.

“Married or unmarried, it does not matter. The axe is free,” Piri said, lobbying her empty beer bottle and reaching into the freezer for another one.

We all laughed and Mai Marshal, the eldest among us, and always the aiser, said: “You cannot aise your friend to do that. Times have changed.”

“So, do you want her to go and get a baby from a stranger?” Piri asked.

We automatically shook our heads to say no, a woman cannot get a baby from a stranger and pretend that it belongs to her husband.

That is not done. Mai Kiri said a woman must accept a seed from a family member only. In doing so, she should not look for love because such a liaison has nothing to do with love.

It is about the survival of the clan, kusika rudzi.

In some instances, my sisters still believe so much in our traditional ways, which no longer work in this day and age.

With HIV, the risk of kupindira is too high.

What then, do we do with men who cannot see or men who have lost their little axe?

New spaces and new dialogues are needed to discuss what we can no longer handle on our own.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is the CEO of Rio Zim Foundation. She writes in her personal capacity.

Source : The Herald