At a dining table once, I was asked about my heritage. I was asked if I could recite my lineage, and I did… what I knew of it anyway. The man who had listened to me relate the movements of my people, their cows, their resettlement and their heritage, then told me,
“That’s not a true recitation.”
Not because it was incomplete, but rather because it included women.
When my father originally told me the story of his grandfathers, I had asked about their wives and he’d provided their names as far as he remembered. A person’s memory might go back as far back as two generations, though, so I would only learn the name of his mother and his grandmother. He had never been told his great-grandmother’s name.
Two years ago, at the burial of my paternal aunt, I learned a new name; that of my grandfather’s sister. How had my father not mentioned his paternal aunt!? I had asked about the mothers but had never asked about the sisters, who occupied an even more complicated place as temporary members of the household, on their way to a different lineage at marriage. They would occupy a space as mothers and wives, ‘outsiders’ who do not get included into the lineage recitation.
I, however, decided to always include them in the family tree because of how proud I was of myself for finding their names.
But, of course, that is not how we recite our heritage.
Women born into a lineage, who will be married into new families, often belong nowhere. And as a result, they receive little recognition for the work they do in building up, and maintaining families.
It is an especially strange balance for me, personally, as the youngest child in my family since I spent the least amount of time with my father growing up. He died when i was just a little girl. As a result, my mother raised me and has been the only living parent for the larger percentage of my life. And yet in a system that only recognises fathers and men in families, how is her role appreciated into the next generation?
Daughters of our fathers
On the maternal side, when you visit, you introduce yourself as your mother’s daughter. Your mother is your blood; that is who they will recognise and associate you with. And should the conversation get more ‘serious’, you might then be re-introduced with stories like, “Remember our daughter who married that young man who worked in the bank? Yes, yes, this is one of his children.”
That’s tradition and while we may value it, we need to also remember that culture is dynamic and changes through time. Things can change.
So what would change look like in this case?
I don’t know the answer to this. I have tried to imagine what different scripts would look like, but it has been difficult. I can only make sense of it by remembering that this is a patriarchal society. Instead of making the women fit within this script, we need a new one. We need to overhaul the recitation and reimagine one that values – and remembers – everyone.
But we need to start asking how the memories of our maternal female relatives are carried through the generations. How – and who – do we remember? When we recite where we come from, and to whom we belong, where do our mothers and sisters fall?
If the answer, continues to be “nowhere”, we simply continue to erase the fundamental and daily role of womanhood in all of our lives and lineages.
Main image taken from www.legacyarchival.com