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Female Husbands


The Female Husband

Sexual classifications change from community to community, the more a community is accepting of the different type of gender, the broader their classifications of it. The Nandi of western Kenya presents a perfect example of how society deals with sexual classifications, with the institution of their woman-to-woman marriage. In a cultural society where it is entrenched in the very way they live, the attributes of a “man” versus that of a “woman”, any woman who acts like a man seems like an anomaly. And in the case of the people of Nandi, this anomaly is resolved by the frequently reiterated public dogma that a female husband is a man (Regina Oboler 1980).

A female husband is a woman who pays bridewealth for another woman and acquires a wife, but doesn’t have sexual relations with the said wife.

Women’s rights in land and cattle are very limited in Nandi, and since the people of Nandi are typically known for their military organization and aggressive cattle-raiding practice, a girl may be given a heifer by her father only if she is a virgin at her initiation and a woman may keep one cow as bridewealth for each of her daughters, and that is that. Land ownership and management is a male prerogative, the exception to this rule is when a woman’s husband dies and she becomes a widow. Widows can hold property in their own right, but the main point is, the said widow will be holding the property in the trust of her young sons.

Why Female Husband

Due to the reason, that female children have limited rights to land and cattle it is imperative for married women in Nandi to have male children. The Nandi society is polygamous and most men marry more than a woman, any property that is acquired by the man and his wives during the course of the marriage is shared equally amongst them, irrespective of the number of children the said wife has. A wife without a son can hold a property, but in the event of her death, the property is reverted back into the family of the husband. This is seen as an unfortunate thing to happen to a woman in the Nandi society, so to solve that, the woman becomes a female husband.

There are other options available to a woman who has no son. There is adopting or buying male child, this is less popular because it is difficult to find a child who is being put up for adoption, and in the past, children that were being born by unwed mothers were killed unless requested for adoption by a barren woman who happened to be present at the birth. It was easier to adopt or buy male children in the past than it is now since infanticide has been abolished. The second option is “marrying the house” or “marrying the center post”. In this form of marriage, the youngest daughter of the sonless woman is retained at home and is said to “marry the house”. This daughter will then have children by self-selected sexual partners and her sons will inherit the house’s property, but this arrangement is said to be a new one and not yet popular.

Becoming A Wife To A Female Husband

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There are various reasons why a woman becomes a wife to a female husband and some of the common ones are that

  1. They are not beautiful enough or suffer from a birth defect that prevents them from attracting male husbands.
  2. They have had kids out of wedlock
  3. A matter of preference.

Women who become female husbands are accorded all the respect and right a male in the Nandi community is accorded. They attend male gatherings such as male circumcisions and are also in the division of labor, they are expected to do the job of a male.

© 2022 Akosua Ago Mansa

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