Tarime. Mara Region’s same-sex marriage has drawn the attention and criticism of human and gender rights activists.
As evidenced in The Citizen on Sunday’s recent visits in Tarime and Serengeti districts where the traditional same-sex marriage is widely practised, most of Western enthusiasts came to find that nyumba ntobhu, which is translated as ‘woman marrying woman’, is quite different from West’s lesbianism, which together with gay marriage, have been hotly disputed in Africa.
“I expected to see a young beauty romancing with an older woman the way it is done in the West, but what I have seen it here is quite different from what I thought,” Canadian Steve Mulligan told The Citizen on Sunday reporter at remote Hekwe, one of the villages in that widely observes same-sex marriage in Serengeti District.
Mr Mulligan said he couldn’t believe his ears when he found that same-sex marriage was not about romance and sex, rather an overwhelming need for children, especially boys, sought to inherit family properties and other businesses.
“In most cases when a woman is married to another woman, the younger one is expected to take care of the older one in her old age and bear her children especially if she is barren,” said Tarime resident Waitara Meinganyi, who is also a human rights activist.
Explaining further on the practice, 63-year-old Agnes Robi, who lives with Sophia Bhoke Alex,25, the culture of woman marrying woman is initially practised as an option for barren women.
“I decided to marry Sophia after finding all my six children who were girls got married. She has given me one baby girl already while we are still praying for her to get a baby boy who would take over this compound when I die,” she said.
Correcting wrong notion that any younger woman is free to have sexual relations with any man of her choice as long as she bears children for her, Robi said that was untrue.
“The system enables us to claim the children born by the other woman so long one pays a bride price to her parents. I paid six heads of cattle to get her,” she said.
To Australian Connie Huntington, the same-sex marriage looked too discriminative and dangerous to young girls.
“I think the system doesn’t give the girl her rights to decide on whom she wants to live with since her marriage is decided by elders,” said Ms Huntington at Kegonga Village in Tarime after visiting a woman who was living with two wives.
However, the biggest concerns on the practice, in both Tarime and Serengeti districts was that young men claimed they were being denied opportunities to marry young women because the latter continued to be loose knowing that they could choose to be married by older women.
“Most young women now prefer the same-sex claiming young Kuria are harsh and violent,” said Sophia when responding to a question whether her marriage was voluntary or forced.
As viewed by Meinganyi, nyumba ntobhu system will lose its stronghold if men turn away from violence and start treating their wives well.