15-year-old Mom of 3 from Kuria narrates how she was Married To An Old Woman Who Needed Sons

In many African societies, including Kenya, the concept of same-sex marriage is not just unheard of but is also vehemently opposed, often considered taboo and even abominable. This cultural stance has led to the ostracization of LGBTQ advocates within numerous Kenyan communities and religious groups. However, there exists a unique cultural practice within the Kuria community of Kenya, primarily concentrated in Migori county, known as Nyumba Mboke, which permits women to enter into marital unions with other women.

Nyumba Mboke, though allowing for woman-to-woman marriage arrangements, does not encompass sexual relations, distinguishing it from conventional LGBTQ setups. Among the Kuria people, this practice holds significant cultural value, particularly in situations where a man’s wife is unable to conceive or bear a male heir, crucial for the continuation of the family lineage. Within Kuria tradition, male offspring are esteemed as the rightful heirs who perpetuate their father’s lineage, whereas female children are viewed as assets due to the dowry they bring upon marriage.

According to Kuria elder Mawisa Mwita, Nyumba Mboke ensures the preservation of family continuity, offering a solution when a woman is unable to fulfill her expected reproductive role. In such cases, the community permits her to enter into a marriage with another woman, facilitating the continuation of the male lineage. Mwita further elucidates that while Nyumba Mboke has its merits, it has inadvertently made young girls susceptible to early and teenage marriages, exacerbating issues such as teenage pregnancies and school dropouts, particularly prevalent in Migori.

The prevalent practice of female circumcision and early marriages contributes significantly to the educational disenfranchisement of young girls. In Migori, teenage pregnancies often follow instances of female genital mutilation (FGM), prompting parents to arrange marriages for their pregnant daughters under the guise of Nyumba Mboke, in exchange for dowry. Consequently, many girls find themselves trapped in early marriages, forsaking their educational pursuits.

Regrettably, this deviation from the original purpose of Nyumba Mboke has transformed it into a means for financial gain for some parents, thereby undermining its cultural significance. Consequently, the practice has strayed from its intended role as a mechanism for ensuring family continuity, morphing into a commercial transaction for certain individuals within the community.