Same-sex marriage sounds stranger than fiction but this has been a way of life for many years for one community that occupies Nyanza region of Kenya.
Women marrying each other is a normal traditional practice for the Kuria community found in south of Kenya and north of Tanzania.
The Kuria community in Kenya is just a small portion, majority are found in Tanzania. The community was divided by geographical boundary drawn by British and German imperialists who colonized Kenya and Tanzania.
Marriage between women mean something completely different in Kuria community where the age-long tradition is still being practiced to date.
Same-sex marriage is still illegal in both Kenya and Tanzania where the Kuria community is found. However, same-sex marriage in Kuria community doesn’t mean romance or sex in any way. There is no sharing the same bed or wearing any rings or even reciting marital vows.
Kuria women marry each other under the auspices of a unique Kuria tribal tradition called nyumba ntobhu (“house of women”). It allows an older widow who does not have any male descendants to marry a younger woman who does have—or will potentially have—a son. That way, the son will inherit the older woman’s land, and ensure that her lineage does not fade away.
Same-sex marriage tradition has existed since ancient times in the Kuria tribe, but it was rarely used. As the Kuria population grew, nyumba ntobhu became more common as the number of older widows increases.
This practice is thriving within Kuria community in Kenya and Tanzania because the community does not stigmatize the parties involved, unlike lesbianism which is still a taboo in many if not all communities in East Africa.
The age-old same-sex marriage tradition has become an unexpected lifesaver for another big problem among women of the Kuria tribe—domestic violence.
High spousal domestic violence rate has forced many women to walk out of their marriages, with many women having kids and no source of income they would rather get married to older widows for food security and shelter.