Villagers often said I had ants in my anus but that no more bothered me than their saying hello. They were simple people, uneducated and without ambition, and I was proud to be different learning to read and write, eating with knives and forks, and bathing twice daily. White men paid me to cook in their houses, and I saved wages to invest in cattle. Back home, I demanded my hut be immaculate. If one of my girlfriends failed to thoroughly clean or broke something, I beat her. She had to understand. I was Onyango Obama, a serious and temperate man.
I waited long to get married then was patient with my wife Helima despite her barrenness. She knew the problem could not have been mine. I was a strong man dancing as I looked for another woman in a hall in Nairobi and not worried about bumping into people or stepping on toes. A loudmouth shouldn’t have said I was already an old man with a wife and cattle but no children and must therefore have a problem between my legs. I hit him with my right fist then another right and left and kicked him in the groin and jumped on his fallen flesh and pummeled till I was pulled off.
I would’ve gone back to the village anyway. I needed a beautiful young woman and investigated all. The best was Akumu but her father had already committed her to another man and received six cattle. I said send those back and I’ll give you fifteen this minute. He agreed, and the following morning my friends performed the ceremonial capture of Akumu and carried her kicking happily to my hut where Helima ran off to stay with neighbors while I made Akumu my wife and soon had a daughter, Sarah, and a son, Barack, and took a fresh sixteen-year old, also named Sarah, as my third wife and kept her in Nairobi where I worked for a white man who tried to strike me with a cane I blocked and snatched away to cane his hateful hide.
That is an example why Christianity, which I had tried, repulsed me. Christ was weak and so was his doctrine of forgiveness. I doubted white men really believed in all that. Like ants white men worked together and built their businesses and nations, unlike foolish black men who will always lose. Thankfully, I by nature possessed iron discipline and a clenched fist. My newest wife understood she needed beatings to keep her in line. All women should have deferred, but Akumu often complained and twice deserted her children and me and each time I marched to her father’s village to demand her return which he granted.
When World War II began I ordered my wives to behave while I served in British regiments as a cook. Among other places I traveled to Arabia, Ceylon, and Burma where I obtained a fourth wife delighted to belong to a strong man of fifty. She stayed there and I returned to Kenya and found Helima unwilling to move to a village with land favorable to crops I’d learned to grow. That didn’t bother me long. She was old as I was. Akumu and Sarah came with me and watched my bananas and mangoes cover the horizon and bring money along with cattle I sold to build each of them a hut and one for myself.
Sarah bore two children and behaved while Akumu repeatedly disrespected me and had to be thrashed but still failed to complete chores, forcing me to be sterner still. When my daughter Sarah was twelve and Barack nine, Akumu kidnapped our third child, an infant, and in the night rushed to her family’s village. I didn’t want her back but she had abandoned two children. After two weeks of consideration, I confronted her family and learned they’d already accepted a dowry from a man she’d married and accompanied to Tanganyika. Akumu was in fact so treacherous and irresponsible she told our daughter Sarah to wait a few weeks then take Barack and walk through wilderness to her parents’ village. Two weeks later, I found them starving, thirsty, mauled by insects, and covered with dirt. I broke down, but only briefly, then fed and cleaned them up and took them back to my wife Sarah with news they were now hers.
Daughter Sarah was bright and would probably marry well and did not need the money for schooling I gave Barack, whom I had long tutored in reading and mathematics. Sometimes teachers caned my intelligent son for correcting them in class. A few years later he became one of the elite young African students in Kenya, earning admission to a mission secondary school fifty miles away. He received good grades but secretly took girls to his dormitory and stole chickens and crops from neighboring farms and shamed me when he was expelled and for that I caned his back till it bled.
Source: Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama