“No, I don’t (carry things on my head). That is a woman’s duty and nothing to do with me. I became a man and I am a man and that is all. Why should I assume women’s work anymore?” – Taptuwei
In our last article, we looked at some of the possible reasons–outside of queerness–that two Nandi women may be married. Now, we’ll take a look at the other side. Though it is widely held that these marriages are exclusively platonic, there is little evidence to support the claim across the board.
Like all marriages, these women-to-women marriages are influenced by a number of factors aside from sexual and romantic attraction, and are often calculated decisions. It’s true that throughout history, sexual intercourse hasn’t always played a major role in marriage. In parts of Europe, for instance, sex motivated by anything other than conception has been taboo and faced explicit bans. Yet it is rare for these marriages to be dismissed as platonic.
Further, any lack of sexual relationship between two married women doesn’t necessitate a platonic relationship. In addition to safety concerns in regards to Kenyan laws, asexual women have existed and continue to exist. Regardless of reason, women-to-women marriages without sex can be equally fulfilling.
Of course, when discussing women-to-women marriages, we have to acknowledge the experience of the partner expected to give birth to a son. Her sexual partner was often chosen by her wife, but it’s clear that she also played a part in approving whomever was chosen and had the power to reject someone if she wanted to.
Though she was permitted to seek out relationships aside from her female-husband and the partner they chose, it was neither expected nor required. The child would not have a relationship with the person who happens to be their biological father at all.
Once born, the child would be the son of the two women, leaving the biological father no obligation nor rights to him. Instead, the female-husband took on the role of the father and fulfilled all the ideals that came with the title.
While female-husbands are not required to adhere to the same rules as other men, many take on the role happily and refuse any task intended for women. Taptuwei, a female-husband, said:
“No, I don’t (carry things on my head). That is a woman’s duty and nothing to do with me. I became a man and I am a man and that is all. Why should I assume women’s work anymore?”
While the women-to-women marriages practiced by the Nandi aren’t inherently a queer practice, it’s a practice that may be appealing for queer women. It’s an option that can be taken advantage of, and almost certainly has been.
Some historians have argued that this interpretation is an invention of the West attempting to insert queerness in a country with none; that is unequivocally false. Though missionaries violently destroyed many parts of Kenyan culture and history, the evidence exists. The history is rich and continues on. Queer people have existed in Kenya and will continue to exist. And for some queer women, these marriages were and are a safe option to live the best lives they can.
Because customary law is defined as “The law consisting of customs that are accepted as legal requirements or obligatory rules of conduct, practices and beliefs that are so vital and intrinsic a part of social and economic system that it is treated as if they were laws,” women-to-women marriages continue to be protected. Hopefully, they will continue on long into the future. Nandi culture deserves to be protected and allowed to thrive, queer or otherwise. This is just another way in which society adapts to the fact that gender and sexuality do not always fit binary and heterosexist ideas.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
Boakye, B. (2018 April). The fascinating history of Africa’s female husbands. Retrieved from https://face2faceafrica.com/article/fascinating-history-africas-female-husbands
Cadigan, R. (1998). Woman-to-woman marriage: practices and benefits in Sub-Saharan Africa. Retrieved from https://media.smith.edu/media/assistivetech/atlibrary/cardigan_woman.pdf
Oboler, R. (1980). Is the Female Husband a Man? Woman/Woman Marriage among the Nandi of Kenya. Ethnology, 19(1), 69-88. doi:10.2307/3773320
Ojwang, J., & Kinama, E. (2014). Woman-to-Woman Marriage: A Cultural Paradox in Contemporary Africa's Constitutional Profile. Verfassung Und Recht in Übersee / Law and Politics in Africa, Asia and Latin America, 47(4), 412-433. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43239752
Telewa, M. (2012 February). Kenya's legal same-sex marriages. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-16871435
The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. (2016 February). Research on the Lived Experiences of LBQ Women in Kenya. Retrieved from https://issuu.com/galckkenya/docs/research_on_the_lived_experiences_o
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. (2011 July). Kenya: Mombasa Court Recognizes Woman to Woman Marriage. Retrieved from https://ilga.org/kenya-mombasa-court-recognizes-woman-to-woman-marriage