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A lesson about assigning blame for adultery in Tanzania

My language partner and I had a discussion about adultery this week. It came up when we were discussing a fall from grace as a possible reason for a change in one’s circumstances (along with poor business decisions, foolish investments, and so on.)

My language partner spoke of women who have no kindness in them, who lure men into their arms and then blackmail them if they want to return to their wives. The economic dimension loomed large for her: the money that should be going to this man’s wife and kids instead goes to his mistress, who demands more and more. With this money, she is able to make herself more attractive, while simultaneously tightening her grip on him.

I asked about the husband’s role in this, and she told me that he may not be getting what he needs from his wife. Perhaps she has several children and is busy with them, not paying attention to her husband or putting effort into him or looking good for him. (This is made harder, of course, if he is not giving her money.)

All this sounded to me like blaming women – both the wife and the mistress – for a man’s decisions. Could he not resist the temptations of the mistress? Did he not see his role in marriage as being committed to and loving his wife?

She identified self-control as lacking in Tanzanian men, and also that there is a level of entitlement, based on cultural ideas and reinforced by poor readings of the Bible. The men will say, Mimi ni kichwa – “I am the head” – and then not read on any further. I asked about the passages in the Bible that talk about the last being first and the first being last. Apparently these are not popular among such men either!

I offered my view that men who act like this are in need of two big lessons: first that they control their own bodies rather than being at the mercy of them; and second that women’s bodies are not there for them to possess and rule, whether the wife’s or the mistress’s.

My language partner agreed with these lessons, but she saw them as completely inadequate. This was the big cross-cultural moment for me: witchcraft entered the discussion! Many of these men, she argued, are bewitched and in the power of a mistress or a witchdoctor. You can tell this, she said, because even men who are married to beautiful and attentive women have affairs, often with uglier or meaner women. (This is also why the wife cannot be blamed.)

Therefore the solution that she offered was not only that men change their attitudes, but also that wives pray for their husbands. Prayers, she said, can break the power of magic. He might continue to drink a magic potion, but it will no longer have an effect on him. Once this power is broken, you have much more chance of getting him along to church, and it is well known that men taking their Christian faith seriously will have higher rates of fidelity and kindness to their wives.

I asked if this spell or influence from the other woman leaves the man without responsibility, but my language partner disagreed. She said there’s an element of cooperating with a spell, and of going looking for other sexual partners. He is not mindless nor a victim; he is making choices. When he realises his wrong, he must confess it to God and to his wife and ask for their forgiveness.

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

1 reply

  1. Helpful, Tamie, and her suggested response of prayer. Using magic (and potions) is almost commonplace to manage relationships in many areas of the Middle East.
    Reminds me also of a recent discussion around spirits who have sexual relations with humans. If the veil between the spiritual and material worlds is fairly thin, it’s not surprising that one of the areas of interaction is around sex.

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