4 June 2018

Kenya: Where Women Marry Women to Tackle Childlessness

Photo: Ayub Muiyuro/Daily Nation
Esther Simatei, (left) and Nancy Chepkorir who are married to each other.

Among the community living in Emurua Dikirr, Narok barrenness and the lack of a boy child is terribly loathed and has made them invent a unique form of marriage to cure the sad feeling.

The residents, many of whom belong to the Kalenjin community, invented a union between women and fellow women to tackle childlessness.

It's all in an effort to cure the desire of motherhood and also to boost ego among society members who feel proud when they have a warrior (boy child) in the family.

"Women are allowed to marry fellow women in the event one of them is barren or has failed to bear a boy child after several attempts," Patrick Arap Tanui, a Kalenjin elder said.


The elder says the reason the marriage was devised was "for the women to have children and feel normal for owning children or warriors (boy child)."

Ms Esther Simatei, 86, from Tagitech village has been married to William Tuwei, 98, for over 60 years now.

But they have never had children of their own, but that was not a reason for them not to stay together.

"When we lost all hope of ever siring a child in 1984, we agreed with my husband that I proceed to marry another woman who would give us children," Ms Simatei explained.

Ms Simatei married Nancy Chepkorir in a traditional ceremony officiated by elders of the community.

After dowry was paid to her family, Ms Chepkorir moved to the new home and became Simatei's wife.

"I have lived here for the last 34 years and have sired eight children for them, five boys and three girls," Ms Chepkorir said.

According to Ms Chepkorir their lives are normal, "just like other marriages operate."

Ms Chepkorir shares a compound with Ms Simatei and her husband.


Mr Tuwei and Ms Simatei say they are both Christians and members of the Africa Gospel Church while Ms Chepkorir is a Catholic.

Ms Rael Too, 86, who also hails from Tagitech village shares a similar story.

Ms Too was widowed in 1991 after over 20 years of marriage and was left with five daughters.

Inside her heart there was still a gap since she did not have a boy child to take care of the home in her elderly days.

"I had five daughters but with the absence of a boy child there was still a gap as I would be left in solitude after all my girls get married," Ms Too said.

She married Lilian Too in 1996. They got seven children.

Mr James Arap Kimeli, another Kalenjin elder explains how the women manage to sire children while in such unions.

"Close family members usually agree on the man to be involved in siring children with the married woman then the man is approached. Once a deal is struck he is paid in terms of cattle heads or goats," Mr Kimeli said.

The elder said in such marriages virtually everything is conducted in privacy, including the man to be involved in siring the children.

"The man has no right to claim ownership of the children," Mr Kimeli said.

According the Marriage Act 2014, "a marriage may be registered if it is in accordance with the rites of a Christian denomination, it is a civil marriage or shares the customary rites relating to any of the communities in Kenya".

The Act adds "a person shall not marry their close relatives including a parent, child, sibling or person whom that person has adopted or by whom that person has been adopted to."

Mr Steve Biko, a family lawyer observes that the marriages, which are locally referred as 'marriage in Toloita' are recognised in law even though they are not captured in the Marriage Act.

"The marriages in Toloita have been in existence in traditional African societies but as civilization is widely gained, they are beginning to get eroded," Mr Biko said.


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