“A real man has cows.” So says Tipo our taxi driver, adding, “any man can marry, but a real man has cows.”
Tipo was answering questions my husband and I were asking during our long taxi ride from our hotel in Nelson Mandela square, Johannesburg to the O. R. Tambo airport, South Africa, where we were spending part of our spring break. Tipo working and living in Johannesburg was from a providence far northeast of the city. We were leaning forward in our seats with rapt attention to his outlook on life.
He complained that in the city you can not kill any real animals. You can not even have any real animals. Yes, you can have a dog or a cat, but they are what you call pets. You cannot have cattle. No sheep. No goats. Nothing. And if you want to celebrate Easter you can not even kill a goat.
He explained in his culture they don’t really celebrate Easter either, which is a really big holiday in South Africa. His culture does not have churches. They celebrate ancestors with killing a goat. But they do not eat the goat all at once. First they eat the legs. Then he went on in clear detail what other parts were eaten during what parts of the day. Listening so attentively I did not think to get my notebook out to record the process accurately. So not wanting to misrepresent Tipo I will have to leave off the details. But he explained quite clearly it was very important how one prepared and cooked the goat as well as how one ate it.
He also added before we reached the airport that in town you don’t own any real land. You only have your house. But at his traditional home in the province where his family is from one can have cows and the chief of the village will let your cows eat the grass on all the land of the village. And if a real man has four cows, he can get married.
Tipo mentioned he was thinking of buying two cows and over a year his cows would grow and he may have four cows and then he may marry.
He continued to explained in his culture a man can have as many wives as he wants, as long as he takes care of all of them. If he can have four children with his first wife, he can have five children with his second wife, seven children with his third wife and eight children with his fourth wife. He can even have five wives if he wants. But you must take care of them all, he stressed with concern.
My husband, taken with Tipo’s enthusiasm for having many wives and the responsibility of taking care of all of them, shared that at one time he had 138 cows, but has only had one wife.
Tipo feeling compassion said “Yes. You must ask your first wife if you can have more wives.” Where I politely interjected I did not want my husband to have more wives right now. Tipo understood. He said yes the first wife would like you to spend time with her, and so would the second wife and so would the third wife, sometimes there is fighting among the wives. But quickly dismissed this concern by adding, “But that is what happens.”
And so for the rest of the informative taxi ride we learned of Tipo’s culture, his desire to have cows, the trouble with living in the city and his understanding a man who once had 138 cows, but unfortunately only one wife.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher