What is nyumba ntobhu?
Nyumba ntobhu is a traditional non-sexual same-sex union among Kuria women, especially in the Mara Region of Tanzania. The tradition allows older widowed women without male descendants to marry younger women, known as mokamööna (daughters-in-law), who have or will potentially have a son. That way, the son will inherit the older woman's land and other wealth and ensure that her lineage does not fade away. She would also find someone to take care of her. Some also practice it to escape abusive marriages and Gender-Based Violence(GBV).
The Dowry process
As in other traditional marriages, a nyumba ntobhu marriage is secured through the payment of a bride price, usually in the form of cattle. It is the older woman who pays the bride price to the family of the younger woman.
Marriage and childbearing
The two women do everything a married couple would except have sex, thus distinguishing it from lesbianism. They live together, share a bed as a couple and bear children in their union.
Women married under nyumba ntobhu usually hire a man to bear children and pay him when the younger woman falls pregnant. The hired man has to agree with both women that he will not demand paternal rights for any children born out of the agreement.
The older woman becomes the children's guardian, and they usually take up her surname. The man who impregnates the younger woman is usually paid with food or a goat.
There are rare cases where a man may return to claim a child, but this is always prevented by choosing a man who is not known in the village or is known to be irresponsible.
It is interesting to note that in some cases, nyumba ntobhu can be a polygamous marriage. The older woman will marry two younger women, who will both bear her children.
In as much as the practice is common in Tanzania, with nyumba ntobhu couples making up about 10% to 15% of households, it is important to note that marriages are only recognized in tribal law and not Tanzanian law.
However, nyumba ntobhu has been termed an imperfect solution to the issues that Kuria women face. The root problem of women's inability to own land and depend on men economically remains.
It has been criticized as it replicates some of the abuses women are subjected to when they marry men; they do not have any right to inherit property.
Sikira, A. N. (2012). "Women to women marriages (nyumba ntobhu): Violence among infertile women in Mara region, Tanzania". Tanzania Journal of Development Studies. 12.
Join the Lughayangu Community!