Sandra Wekesa and Lennox Sengre @PeopleDailyKe
She sweeps her scruffy compound carefully as her ‘wife’ watches her. They talk in low tones as if telling each other secrets. As she sweeps, she keeps checking on the woman she refers as “the woman of the house” to make sure she is comfortable.
It is midday by now, which means it is probably the second time she is cleaning her compound. As we approach, the rustling sound of leaves distracts her, but she continues with her chore anyway. She checks on the woman again, who is in deep sleep. She decides not to disturb her sleep.
When Susanne Muethya was young, all she ever wanted was to get married and start a family.
But as fate would have it, she became the partner of Ndinda Mutie from Kamuthini village in Machakos county. Ndinda could not conceive. As per their culture, Ndinda had to marry a “wife” to sire children for her. She married Susanne who bore her eight children, who are now adults.
“Ndinda and I have lived together for a long time. I remember the first time she came to our house to take me her wife. I was worried I would not be able to cope but with time, I adapted to this lifestyle,” says Susanne.
She says that her work was to bear children for Ndinda so that they could raise a family on their own.
“Any night I felt ready, Ndinda would look for a man to help me conceive. However, at times, I was allowed to choose a man of my liking. After the affair, I was not required to communicate with them,” says Susanne.
In the case of Ruth Nzilani’s family, which resides in Kiundwani village, also in Machakos, her mother-in-law, who was intersex, had to look for a woman to continue their family linage.
“In the family, there are about 50 women who are intersex. Therefore, they are all required to adapt to iweto (marrying of wives to bear them children). As a community, we have embraced the custom because it guarantees continuity,” says Ruth.
Like Susanne, some women in the Akamba community have to be married off to barren or intersex women to give them acceptance. In today’s society, women seldom marry other women but in Ukambani, Iweto is the norm.
Peter Wambua, Kamuthini village’s council of elders member, explains that in their community women are allowed to marry if barren or an intersex.
“Once a woman discovers she is barren, the husband should allow her to bring in an iweto who will be able to bear children for her. For the clan, this ensures continuity of life,” says Peter.
Peter says that iweto is similar to the normal man and woman union. A woman identifies a woman, visits her family and together with the girl, agree on a bride price and mode of payment.
However, Peter says, the moment a child is born; the biological father is not allowed to contact the family and is in most cases referred to as uncle. The child automatically belongs to the family.
He retorts that in some cases, the iweto is allowed to choose whom she wants to sire a child with and whom to get married to.
“Like any other marriage, the woman of the house is given land to build her house because she is the head of the family. She makes decisions for the family,” says Peter.