Do you know who got Tshaka Zulu killed? His aunt, also know as the ‘The Kingmaker.’ She conspired with his siblings to kill Africa’s most brutal war king. We all have that one aunt who would love to see us dead. Yes, the one you just thought of.

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Why are aunts so mean?

As a TikTok addict, I have seen so many videos about aunts and their reign of terror. They are the ones who are fatshaming us, slutshaming and most likely, the person who has asked you when you are getting married is probably an aunt. How did they get so mean? It’s not what they say, it’s usually how they say it. They have this never ending supply of snide remarks and inflammatory comments. Think back to any family event, who made you want to leave? (We’ll discuss the pervy uncles in another post.)

Aunts have the power

The role of the aunt in an African family is one of prestige and power. The problem with this power is that it was given to them. If it is given to you, it can be taken away. This makes the power merely ceremonial. When I had to get married, my aunt was in the forefront of mediating between the two families. When my sister gave birth, the same aunt sat by her side in the labour ward. When you fall pregnant, or you have other big news, your aunt has to deliver that news to the elders on your behalf. Evidently, aunts have the ‘power’ to set the tempo in the family. To right the wrongs. To set things straight. To decree peace but why, pray tell, would they rather see violence and the family burn to ashes?

As much as aunts have power to change the family dynamics, there are extenuating circumstances that hinder them from doing so. These include sibling rivalry, personal issues and internalised misogyny. The women in the family are used as mules to push the agenda of misogynistic male family members. As much as aunts can do so much, they still need to report to these men. So your aunt can’t save you because she’ll face retribution as well. What does she do? She does nothing.

For evil to prevail a good aunt will stand by and do nothing

The silo of family secrets and scandals is the aunt. When there is sexual violation amongst the relatives, she probably knows about it. Will she do anything about it? Absolutely not! When you’re wondering where the ngozi in your family came from, your aunt probably knows. Will she tell you? Nope. Aunts wield so much power but choose not to use it. For example, a woman who is being physically abused in her marriage will alert her aunt. This is when the aunt should start the process to dissolve the marriage, but no, they will encourage you to stay strong, increase your faith, “men are like that.”

Aunts are meant to be a fountain of wisdom. They are a repository of the family’s cultural beliefs. They are who we have to show us the way. If we can’t stand them and we cut them off, how will we learn the ways of our forefathers? I would love to know their cool tricks, like how to spot someone who is pregnant before the person even knows they’re pregnant. Aunts can tell whether you’re having a boy or a girl by the shape and placement of the baby bump. As a young girl coming into womanhood, you need your aunt. She is the one you go to when you can’t go to mom. If auntie can’t be trusted who will you turn to?


Toxic aunty also has a backstory. And constructive conversations, exposure and psychological support can help unlearn problematic behavior. #browntiktok #desimemes #saasbahu

♬ original sound – AjWavy

The reason why aunts can’t be trusted is attributed to the oppressive system they represent. They carry forward not just the good but also the bad. In order to have the aunts wielding power that’s not just ceremonial, we have to have empowered aunts. I subscribe to the millenial #RichAunty idea. If aunts had the resources to take you in when you escape an abusive home, we would be much better off. If aunty and her kids were not in a secret competition with you and your mom, we would be okay. If aunty could do the right thing without fearing being cut off by her brother, father or husband, only then would she have reached the full extent of her perceived power in the family. Until then, we will keep avoiding family gatherings because aunts will make you wish you were unalive.