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In Musoma region in Tanzania, a woman who has wealth (measured in cattle) but no husband or son who can look after her as she grows old, can take one or several young women as wives. Such a family is called “nyumba ntobhu”.

The practice is prevalent in western Tanzania. It is a traditional form of same-sex marriage. The two women share a bed as a couple, they live together, bear children in their union; they do everything a married couple would, except have sex.

In the Mara region, nyumba ntobhu allows older women to marry younger women in order to have children of their own and assist with the household chores. Women say nyumba ntobhu also helps them overcome problems of gender-based domestic violence.

It is also an alternative family structure for older women who do not have sons to inherit their property and whose daughters have moved away to their husbands’ villages. It offers a form of security for elderly women so they do not live on their own.

Mtongori Chacha (57), who is married to a woman, Gati Buraya (31), says the traditional practice arose as a result of male violence against women.

Chacha and Buraya have three children. Chacha says she decided to marry Buraya because she was unable to have children in her previous marriage to a man, who she says physically abused and tortured her.

To bear children, women who are married under nyumba ntobhu usually hire a man and pay him when the younger woman falls pregnant.

The hired man will also enter into an agreement with both women that he will not demand paternal rights to any children born out of the agreement.

The older woman is the guardian of the children and they usually take her surname.

Chacha says the man who impregnates the younger woman is paid with food or a goat.

In some rare cases, a man may return to claim a child, but Chacha says this can be avoided by choosing a man who is not known in the village or who is known to be irresponsible. These men are known as “street men”.

“I decided to run away from my marriage as I was humiliated and sometimes beaten nearly dead. At 45 I was not able to have children and I had to look for a new family to give me an heir to my property,” Chacha says while she feeds two of her children.

She says she could not accept the fact that she would die without children of her own. Her parents were rich and had many cattle so she chose to marry another woman who would give her children.

There are many faces to this kind of marriage especially in an area where early and forced marriages are prevalent and there are cases where poverty and greed have made minor girls victims.

THE ‘MARRIAGE’ CONTRACT

In this tribe an elderly woman without children will pay a bride price to the parents of a girl in order for a ‘marriage’ to take place between them. Under this kind of ‘marriage’ arrangement the girl is then said to be an ‘mkamwana’, meaning daughter in law, of the sonless woman. After a nyumba ntobhu marriage has taken place, the elder woman allocates a man, usually from her clan, to the ‘bride’ and children born of this relationship will belong to her. The children are referred to as the ‘grand children’ of the elderly woman and it is believed that nyumba ntobhu marriage brings social security to the elderly women in patriarchal Wakurya society. The marriages are contracted in a customary rite and wedding ceremonies and are sometimes very flamboyant with the childless woman paying the cost incurred for the ceremony.

Arranged marriages are part of the culture of Wakurya, the tribe is also unfortunately known to be notorious for wife beating. In a nyumba ntobhu marriage the ‘wife’ is used by the old woman for production and reproduction. She perform duties such as rearing cattle, milking cows, cleaning, growing food crops and harvesting crops.

CHILD MARRIAGE

Bertha Johannes, now 14, was only eight when she was forced to get married to an old woman who lives in Rorya District.

In the Kurya tribe, a woman can marry a girl to bear her children.

Narrating her story, Bertha, who completed Standard Seven in September 2013 at Mkiringo Primary School in Butiama District, says that she was forced to get married by her mother after the death of her father.

She says that her father died in 2006, leaving behind her mother and three other children. Then life became so difficult that they couldn’t afford their daily meals.

In 2008, her mother told her that she would be going to live with an old woman named Ghati Marwa in Rorya District.

“I didn’t know why my mother decided to send me away from my siblings,” says the teenager.

Bertha says that when she asked her mother what her decision meant, the answer was simple; the mother wanted to get cows from Ghati; which she badly needed to raise her children.

“I didn’t know that I was going to be someone’s wife; and the bad thing was that I was too young to get married no matter who I was to marry,” she narrated with tears in her eyes.

And when she finally arrived at Ghati’s home, the old woman told her that she was a married woman. She was thus supposed to obey her as her husband.

Bertha says that she experienced difficulties during her stay with the woman.

“Life was miserable, as most of the time Ghati was bringing home
different men of different ages to sleep with me,” she narrated.

Bertha says that the men would spend nights with her leaving her with little money that was to be surrendered to the old woman. Refusing to sleep with them was followed by a punishment.

“She brought different kinds of men of different ages to sleep with me, so that she could get money…due to my age, it was difficult to do that, so she would beat me up and chase me away,” she said adding; “Since I had nowhere to go, I would come back the following day.”

According to her, the situation continued for two years until her mother came to rescue her.

“She took me back home in 2010 after the intervention of Umati [a
Tanzanian family planning agency],” she narrated.

Her mother, Nyambura Johannes, 42, says that she decided to force her daughter into an early marriage due to the hardships she faced in raising her family after the death of her husband in 2006.

She said that she thought the option would help her address her
financial problems. Bertha’s mother said Ghati gave her four cows as dowry, but the cattle only increased her problems.

She said that she realised that her daughter was also facing
difficulties when she first visited her at her home. However, she had no means to rescue her until 2010 when the Umati team visited her village and decided to intervene and rescue her daughter.

FAR FROM LESBIAN MARRIAGE

Though nyumba ntobhu, is translated as ‘woman marrying woman’, it is quite different from Western lesbianism, which together with gay marriage, have been hotly debated in Africa.

A Canadian visitor to the region was surprised to learn it was not all it was made out to be by advocates of same sex marriage.

“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 here is quite different from what I thought,” Canadian Steve Mulligan told The Citizen on Sunday Newspaper in remote Hekwe, one of the villages 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.

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43 COMMENTS

  1. Nonsense.
    Don’t call it marriage.

    Definition: marriage happens when
    Genesis 2:24 ?
    Ephesians 5:31
    Matthew 19:5
    NIV
    “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
    By any standard a Man is a man not a dildo or a woman.
    By any standard a Wife is a woman not a doll or a man.
    What nonsense. That sounds like a 22nd century brothel ver.2.0 children allowed here.

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    • This is good. Marriage is not always about sex.

      I live with my fiancé and I don’t enjoy sex – I prefer just cuddles and talking and eating out.

      I would marry another female too.

      Thanks

      BB2014,2016

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    • Its not the Bible that defines marriage. Africans used to marry long before the white man brought his Bible. Africans survived long before the white man arrived. You cant therefore start making an African live his life around the European just because he has invaded Africa. Are you saying now that the Chinese are invading Africa the African should live in Chinese culture? The Arabs, The Chinese, The Europeans, The Bible all of this dont define my life as an African. I should live as an African because Iam an African

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    • Such stories are sponsored by the Western World. Writers are heavily funded to propagate such ideologies.

      Nowonder the Bible says Money is the root of all evil.

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    • There is always that docile gullible Numpty who brings up his slave master’s bible as if his ancestors never existed before that novel…your culture is tens of thousand years before your silly plagiarized book.

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    • Jay Jay my brother, please don’t call the Bible “a silly plagiarized book.” The Bible is the Word of God. It has tremendous power to transform your life. God loves you, in spite of your insulting His Word. Repent of your sins, and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. He died for your sins, so you could be forgiven. Secondly, Christianity is part of ancient African history, as it came to Africa in the first century, way before it went to Europe. So, contrary to many people’s misconception, Christianity is not a white man’s religion. It came to Africa straight from Israel before it went to Europe. The Europeans hijacked it and began to misuse it. Again repent of your sins and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Peace brother.

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    • @ mbeki and @ jay jay I’d like to see how you live with your African culture. You’re own on the internet, a western production, you’re speaking and writing in a western ( or Germanic) language, you’re wearing western clothes. Your whole lives are western culture. Where is your African culture? I want African culture but where is it? And jay jay you want politicians or our leaders to be corruption free, hard working, be good leaders and make decisions that benefit others. These are teachings of the Bible or didn’t you know?

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    • @LIE – DETECTOR – You need to wake up and seek knowledge of self…if I told you Africans were circumventing the globe before Columbus you will think its a joke.. You do realize that ancient Egypt civilization does predate Roman history, the Romans sent decades in Egypt learning about its history basically copying.
      @Proud Zambian Woman. – I am spiritual person that way above a religion which is man made…you preaching to me is a waste of time…you might as well be talking gibberish.

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    • Proud Zambian woman fimofimo most ignorant or half educated people are of your opinion. That things like the internet are not African. Who told you that the internet is a solely western production? I am just from a talk by a Zambian journalist whom people like you need to come to Lusaka to awaken you. He emphasised the need for all Africans to emancipate themselves first because the inferiority complex like the one you are displaying makes us ascribe all progress to whites.
      Just because the European introduced certain stuff to you doesnt mean he made them. He collected them from somewhere before bringing them to you. A good example is your numbering system. 123456789 are not European like you would like to believe. The European got them from the Arabs. Where are the Arabs? The dress…

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    • Where are the Arabs? tHEY ARENT eUROPEANS The dress you are talking about is basically from cotton. Cotton was in India and Arabia long before the Europeans knew about it. The Arabs took it to Europe. Cotton was in Mexico 7000 years ago as archaelogy proves. This all means as an emancipated African I should be able to create from all these products something African. Use it the African way not neccessarily the way the European brought them to me. There are many more such examples but I cant spoonfeed you. RESEARCH on your own
      Nasila

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    • “Mukamwana” ….tumbuka tribe word for a son’s wife but these women hire young men to sleep with the older women supposedly young wives. Interesting!!!!

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    • Mushota I thought you would stop carrying your brain in your hands, stop dreaming start living if sex is not important where did you come from? Maybe someone planted you in the back yard…….kikikikiki

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    • Even a dog knows how to recognise a female but some of today’s people IQ lower than a rat!

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    • @Mbeki zeal without knowledge is detrimental to your Soul if you went back into History Africa was not inhabited fully apart from Egypt and Cush especially in AD1000. May I present to you that the same Bible you are tearing apart is your History, the Israelites were Black like you and me Abraham and all His Wives were black most of those Arab people you see were whitened due to mass intermarriages. I challenge you to research thoroughly on this subject and stop misinforming yourself. The Israelites are still Black and scattered all over the world Deut 28 will educate you further.

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  2. @Thorn in the flesh. I think you are missing the point here. This is not about LGBT, it’s about a traditional practice in Africa and Tanzania is not a unique case. Quoting the Bible does mean a thing other than you’re a person who will accept and embrace anything provided it’s from a so called holy book.
    You have the power to access information, use it.

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  3. Marriage is and shall always be between a man and a woman. Anything short of this is from the pit of Hell – the devil can not create or make anything, he just corrupts what God created. Genesis 2:24

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    • Its folly to use a book that condones slavery and sexism as a moral guide..please stuff in it your backside!!

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  4. A child is made by a man and a woman period. Let us not complicate things. Their union can be made wonderful and normal by a great support structure in any nation.

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    • Times have changed and if it weren’t for IVF, some mothers wouldn’t have children in some cases.
      This technology has brought happiness to many of our lives..thank god…

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  5. The write-up here doesn’t represent the topic it is completely missplaced better the writer finds the correct title to his essay.

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  6. Patu Simoko wrote passionately about his experience in Tanzania. I also remember some chaps we worked with and their big weapons. They were not men to play with. Most women would never ever to go out with a Fipa, Mwachusa or Safwa

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  7. @Mbeki and dokowe have said it best. marriage is the union of two people….it can also be defined as joining together or combining two things. marriage aids in complementing each other, based on whatever it is that the two parts deem necessary
    @mushota sorry to hear that you don’t enjoy sex with your fiancé, I hope your love and bond is strong notwithstanding that
    don’t be too quick to quote the bible as if it means any/every thing. to me, it’s just another piece of a historical mostly fictional literature

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    • Laws About Slaves – Exodus 21:1-23
      21 “Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave,[a] he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

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    • So what? I can also quote literature the way you have done.
      “Religion is the opium of the masses” Karl Marx

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  8. Mwewa: I sincerely hope that when you face death, the writings of Karl Marx will comfort you.

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  9. This IS NOT MARRIAGE not at all! It is just like adopting people to stay with.
    It’s a pity the devil is at work trying to make the worst practices look normal. Some things should not even be talked about at all.
    If men can abuse women, even women can abuse fellow women. Marrying each other can’t be the solution. There is no justification for immorality

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  10. Jay Jay also read the book titled AFRICA, CHRISTIANITY AND THE BIBLE by Archbishiop DOYE T. AGAMA

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    • Nzeluzibwele – The mere fact that he is a black practicing archbishop is one reason I wouldn’t waste my time reading it ..I go beyond ancient Greece history to find the truth.

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  11. Lie make me understand. What will happen to those Africans that lived before Christianity came to Africa. Are they going to be saved or not

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  12. Jay Jay, why searching for the truth, when the truth is not far from you. Am yet to celebrate this your African Culture beyond what it has always been, stagnation, retrogration, immortal etc. How on earth would you mortgage another person’s joy, happiness, human right, freedom of choice, on the altar of self. Just like the case in question. Older Woman married to a younger one, without recourse to her feelings, choices, and you call that culture. Please let’s be reasonable and realistic. Thanks and God bless.

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    • Comment:Obiora please which part of Igbo land practice that? I’m an Archeologist it will aide my research.

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Comments are closed.