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.
Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriagei
X
May 21, 2015 4:14 AM
The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.
Video

Video Women to March for Peace Between Koreas

Prominent female activists from around the world plan to march through the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea to call for peace between the two neighbors, divided for more than 60 years. The event, taking place May 24, marks the International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament and has been approved by both Koreas. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan Following Record High Poppy Crops

Afghanistan has seen record high poppy crops during the last few years - and the result has been an alarming rise in illegal drug use and addiction in the war-torn country. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem has this report from Kabul.
Video

Video America’s Front Lawn Gets Overhaul

America’s front yard is getting a much-needed overhaul. Almost two kilometers of lawn stretch from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. But the expanse of grass known as the National Mall has taken a beating over the years. Now workers are in the middle of restoring the lush, green carpet that fronts some of Washington’s best-known sights. VOA’s Steve Baragona took a look.

VOA Blogs