News

Controversial Practices: Luo Widow Inheritance

Multimedia

Audio

The Luo tribe living around Lake Victoria in Kenya has for hundreds of years observed the custom of widow inheritance.  The younger brother of the dead man inherits the widow and provides her with security, financial support and parental care for her children. But some widows are now speaking out against the tradition.

For members of the Luo community, inheritance is a way of continuing life in the home of the deceased – where the widow and her children remain.  But complications may arise when the widow – whether she is a Luo or from another ethnic group – oppose the tradition.  That’s the case with Mary Wanjiru, whose husband died ten years ago.                        

“When my husband died, many men came asking me to accept inheritance. Some were the dead man’s brothers; some were kinsmen and even friends. They said I am still young and I should be inherited. So I refused," she says.

Wanjiru is a Kikuyu – and a Christian.  She has medical and religious reasons for opposing the Luo traditions of her husband.

Some widows have been infected with the AIDS virus by their brothers-in-law.  Also, if a husband has died of the disease, an inherited widow may spread it to her husband’s family.  It’s even said that today, some infected widows search out young, uninfected men to cleanse themselves of AIDS.

Wanjiru says she’s afraid of being infected:  

“These people don’t mind about HIV/AIDS. Other widows inherited say that you don’t have to go with the condom. If you husband died of HIV/AIDS, the man who comes to you is going to spread the disease outside. These men who inherit widows have some other women.  You are not the only one. So this disease can not be finished,” she says.

Apart from the threat of AIDS, Wanjiru says she disagrees with the Luo tradition of cleansing the widow’s home for the brother-in-law:

“Eh! The traditions to be observed include taking herbals….mixing herbals in the food and bathing water so that when the (brother-in-law) leaves your home, he doesn’t carry any bad omen to his house. I did not like that,” she says. 

The herbal ritual can be expensive and time-consuming.

Widows must look in the bushes for the ingredients, and those unfamiliar with the aromatic plants must purchase material.

“There are some people who provide the herbs but widows who don’t know the herbalists must buy and the widows may be cheated. So I did not like such things,” she says.

According to another cleansing ritual, the widow must cast off evil spirits by sleeping first with a social outcast, or madman, before sleeping with her new husband. 

“The Luo culture demands a widow to be inherited by an abnormal man just like a mad man before the dead man’s brother inherits her. The first man is going to be in your house for at least a year before you remain with the younger brother of your husband. “The family said, it is their culture, it is a must; but I refused, but it is a must,” she says.

Wanjiru says the economic rules of inheritance also worked against her.  For example, she says Luo tradition requires the widow to be inherited before building a family home, if she does not have one already.

“Since my husband did not have a house, his family said I must be inherited before I build a new (one). I refused and went to the church, and the church accepted to pray at the site before I build my home. My husband had saved some money in the bank for family development. I denied my husband’s family access to his accounts,” she says.

Although the church discourages inheritance, some people -- like village elder Akech Obati Masira -- continue to support the custom.                             

“Inheritance used to play a central role for the children to see a fatherly figure in the house and also for the mother to be respected in the community, because people looked down at a woman who doesn’t have a husband,” she says.

Masira says the current system of inheritance exploits widows by taking the dead man’s property. He says the way inheritance is now practiced is abominable and exploitative.

 “In the old days, inheritance was never based on sexual intercourse but it was for guidance ship to widows who had passed menopause….

But if a young woman had not passed the menopause stage, she was inherited by the younger brother of the deceased or by people from the same lineage so that she could have the children.  (That’s) because in the Luo community, children were seen as an asset and therefore it was very important for a woman to give birth.

“…(The tradition) used to play a central role in the sense that the children would see a fatherly figure in the house. And then the mother would also be respected so that in our community if a woman does not have a husband then people looked down upon you. And if there is a fatherly figure in the household then the children and the community respect you." she says.

Health care professionals are urging the Luo to abandon the widow inheritance ritual. Some have already done so – especially those who have migrated to urban areas.

But tradition is sacred in rural areas, and many are reluctant to adopt  Western ways.

Let us know what you think of this report and other stories on our web  site. Send your views to AFRICA@VOANEWS.COM or to atabe@voanews.com.  Please include your phone number.

Or, call us here in Washington, DC at (202) 205-9942.  After you hear the VOA identification, press 30  to leave a message.

 

We want to hear what you have to say !

         

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs