— By James from Kenya
The Kuria community is a Bantu tribe found at the border of Kenya and Tanzania, near Lake Victoria. Traditionally, Kurians were subsistence farmers and cattle keepers. But with the advent of modernity, they have greatly metamorphosed. They currently occupy every kind of profession such as finance, military, administration, medicine, engineering, business, etc.
Culturally, it’s men who inherit property among the Kurians. A woman’s position is with her husband, it was believed. And even this way, the inheritance of a woman who did not bear male children was a complicated issue. For such a woman, it meant that all her daughters would be married off and the woman would remain alone with no one to inherit her property or advance her lineage – for only a son could carry on someone’s lineage. So by extension, a mother without a son was generally deemed childless (which was not the case). Therefore, the Kuria community, just like many cultures in the world, values the boy. A sad thing according to me.
Due to these cultural complexities, there were some cultural practices allowed to compensate for the two issues: inheritance and lineage continuity. The “Nyumba mboke/nyumba ntobhu” was the savior. “Nyumba mboke” is a cultural arrangement where a barren woman (not necessarily that she was barren, for the problem could have been with the husband, but she remained faithful to him) or a sonless woman was permitted by the culture to take a younger woman and stay with her. This younger woman has the right to choose a man of her liking to sire children with her. The children of this union were assumed to belong to the older woman, thereby ensuring that the inheritance remained in this household and that the older woman’s lineage did not terminate.
Several points are worth noting here.
First, it should be noted that there is no sexual relationship between the two women as portrayed by some outsiders. It is not a lesbian relationship. Actually, the younger woman refers to the older woman as mother. A quick check on the internet yields articles that assume that a sexual relationship occurs between the women.
Second, this arrangement is only permitted under two circumstances – where there is no son, or where there is no child at all. Again, outsiders have erroneously come up with other circumstances under which the union can occur (e.g. where the husband is absent). *Read an article written by Gabriel Samuels of The Independent on July 29, 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/…/straight-women-kurya-tanzani…
Third, the younger woman gets to choose the man of her liking to be her companion and whom she should make children with. It should be noted that the man has no claim whatsoever over the children born out of this relationship. *Read Marie Claire: http://www.marieclaire.com/cult…/a21668/the-tanzanian-wives/
Despite the fact that this cultural arrangement has given women some sort of peace of mind for a long time, it has several major challenges. Essentially, older women who take a younger women have usually reached menopause, meaning that they are advanced in age. Thus, a woman starts taking care of “her children” in her old age when she herself should be receiving care. This becomes a burden.
Meeting the daily demands (both social and economical) for such a household becomes a task. From my general observation, the young women who enter such arrangements are in most cases lacking in western education. Hence, making ends meet in a world that is dependent on western education becomes a challenge.
And, as Marie Claire notes in her article (above link), the biological fathers are not compelled in any way to take care of the children born from this arrangement. This breeds and cultivates irresponsible parenthood. And as it is, these households are more likely to lack a father figure. Thus, the development of the children is disadvantaged in some way.
The words “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” translate to “the weak house” or “the house of women”. These terms are derogatory in nature in a community that is predominantly patriarchal. The meaning attached to the words impacts how people view themselves or how they view others. So, this household is generally viewed as weak and incapable of supporting itself (which in some cases is wrong). Therefore, the children of this household may grow up thinking that they are inferior or that they are not as worthy as the other children in the community.
Although the “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” practice is decreasing (contrary to what outsiders have painted), property inheritance among women in Kuria culture still tends to cater to traditionally held views.