An age-old practice amongst the Kuria in Migori County continues to thrive despite being frowned upon by tenets of modernism.
The Woman to woman marriage which does not involve sexual activity amongst the “couple” is one of the popular cultural practices in the community aside from the outlawed FGM
Popularly known as ‘Nyumba Boke’ (House of a woman), allows older women to marry young wives in order to have children without the need to live with a man. According to the Kuria tradition, this peculiar alternative marriage is meant to take care of three groups of women: the barren, those without sons and widows.
The main purpose of this arrangement is to give rise to children especially male children, who are highly valued in the community as they are believed to enhance the lineage of families. The marrying women are therefore allowed by culture to look around for and marry young women, whose cardinal role is to look for men, often done in secret, to give them children, who then belong to the women who have married them.
Interestingly, the cadre of brides who suit such an arrangement or marriage are often those who have had children while still living with their parents, young widows or those who have been rejected by their husbands.
27-year old Mary Ghati from Kegonga village in Kuria East Sub-county is one such bride. Married at the tender age of 16 and thrown out three yaers later with two children, Ghati went back to her parents.
Owing to of her “divorced” status, men shied away from her even as her parents patience wore thin. Ghati opted for Nyumba Boke arrangement to ‘secure’ her future.
In 2009, Ghati was approached by one Ms Salome Nyaboke Marwa with a marriage proposal.Ms Marwa 65, had been married for over 30 years and had given rise to six daughters and therefore wanted a young woman who could give her sons. Ghati’s parents readily accepted the marriage proposal and Ms Marwa paid a total of seven cows as dowry.
“My parents got tired of taking care of me and my children. They also could no longer stand the societal embarrassment of living with a daughter who was rejected in her marriage. I had to get married to another woman just to keep my life moving,” she says.
The two women have been happily married for the last seven years, a union that has sen forth two sons.
Ghati was given a grass thatched house and a piece of land to fend for herself. The two women are peasant farmers who live off their land, growing maize, millet and other food crops and rearing a few animals.Ms Marwa thanks “our tradition for now I have sons.”
However, the arrangement does not only attract the young single mothers living with their parents and those whose marriages have broken up. Young girls are being forced by their parents to get married to the rich old women so as they can get a lot of dowry.
32 year old Judith Maisori was compelled by her parents into such marriage to Ms. Peninna Chacha when she was 15 years old.Her parents were given lots of animals as dowry by Ms. Chacha who is barren and wanted to have heirs for her family.
Judith now has seven children, four boys and three girls. Only two have the same father and the rest have different fathers. However, she is the only one who knows the fathers.
Gender activists in the region say that much as this practice is ancient, it has helped give women a sense of freedom.
“Women are now choosing to marry other women instead something that gives them more power and freedom,” said an activist.
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