The Taita are an East African ethnic group that has lived in Kenya for four or five hundred years. They are also known as Wadawida or Wataita. The Taita are mostly farmers who reside in the southern mountainous region of the country. The Taita tribes consist of small communities known as clans and extended families.
In another article, I talked about the three kinds of love the Taita have: infatuation, lust, and romantic love. Each of these has its own feelings and ways of showing them.
The third type of love, “romantic love,” is of particular interest to us in the context of this article. The Taita “romantic love” is an intricate emotional experience that combines passion and affection. This type of romantic love, as opposed to infatuation, is a more enduring affectionate bond. For the Taita, “romantic love” unites the characteristics of passionate romantic love and companionate romantic attachment. It seems that Taita does not distinguish between “romantic love” and “companionship love.” According to the Jim Bell’s anthropological field study, love is still present in the Taita marital relationships, even though some of them are arranged marriages, some are polygamous (Bell, 1995).
The Respected Taita Family System
The Taita culture follows a patrilineal pattern of descent that prioritizes the interests of the larger lineage over those of the individual. People accept and respect the passion that makes up folklore love stories. Although they respect the passionate feelings of youth, they encourage men and women to keep these strong emotions apart from the conventional marriage arrangements. They strive to limit individual passion so that these strong emotions do not disturb a normal relationship and the societal order.
Family Responsibilities Are the First Priority
The people of the older generation encourage young and unmarried Taita men and women to keep their romantic and passionate relationships within limits to avoid diminishing their commitments to the extended family. So, many Taita men and women do their best to fulfill their responsibilities to the lineage and their family. They comply with their duties in an arranged marriage.
Taita Marriage: Culturally Specific Romantic Love in Taita
Once the responsibilities of an arranged marriage are fulfilled, romantic love may start to play a major role in choosing a new wife. Those who were in arranged marriages, not being romantically interested in their wives, might be in love with their “outside lover.”
Many Taita men admitted wanting to be in a relationship with another woman. However, they were frequently directed at someone unattainable. Only a few men admitted to being really in such a relationship. Nevertheless, these “affairs of the heart” often happen in Taita society.
One man who Jim Bell interviewed commented that
“it can happen that your heart is lost to one you can never marry, but you love that person for your life.” A middle-aged parent concurred, saying that “this notion is not a rare one.” Many older men expressed their love for a woman who “belonged to another man.” Some informants assured me that they had lovers elsewhere or that some of the children I had interviewed were the offspring of lovers who “played in the forest together.”(Bell, 1995, p.159).
How Taita Manages Their Extramarital Affairs
The Taita keep their extramarital affairs very private, following elaborate rules. Taita lovers are discreet in their relationships and rarely show their emotions or affectionate relationships in public. They act as if they are strangers whenever they meet.
Usually, Taita strive to balance their family obligations and personal desires. They acknowledge that there are various reasons for keeping men and women in marriage. They are doing everything possible to express their emotions and love without undermining the existing social order.
The first and second marriages are intended to honor family responsibilities. After that, a man can allow himself to make his love the primary interest by taking on a new wife.
Dramatic Love Stories of the Taita Past
An old Taita woman admitted, recalling her younger years, that she was infatuated with three or four men at different times during her early teenage years.
“Her father had, however, arranged a marriage for her with one of hispeers. She had eight children. Several old men remembered their affairs in sharp detail, as though theyhappened yesterday, rather than some forty or fifty years earlier. A woman, also in her seventies, stressed (through an interpreter) that “even when I was a young girl, women were having babies before marriage. And others had lovers in the forest after marriage. “(Bell, 1995, pp.160-161).
In private conversations with anthropologists, the old Taita people openly expressed their views on infatuation, lust, and love. They compared the stories from when they were young with modern life. They agreed that the Taita’s attitudes toward love had shifted with the passage of time and social conditions. (Bell, 1995).