Why straight women in Tanzania are marrying one another

August 4, 2016 /LGBT News/ In a remote village in northern Tanzania, same sex marriages are on the rise, but not among lesbians. Within the Kurya tribe, a longstanding tradition of straight women and widows marrying each other in order to preserve their homes and lifestyles without husbands has seen a resurgence in popularity recently, as women seek more freedom and power, according to Marie Claire magazine.

Photo courtesy of  Marie Claire magazine
The Kurya tribe, with a population of 7,00,000 spread all over northern Tanzania, has a practice they call Nyumba Ntobhu, which translates to “House of women.”  This centuries-old local tradition has been given a modern revival by members of the Kurya tribe in remote villages in the north of the country.

Under the tradition, a woman is permitted to marry a younger woman if she is widowed or her husband chooses to leave her. This means she can keep the family home which is jointly owned with the younger woman, despite a tribal law which dictates that only males can normally inherit property.

These married women live together, cook, work, and raise children together. They share the same bed, but no part of this union involves sex, and the Kurya tribe forbids homosexuality. “Most Kurya people don't even know gay sex exists in other parts of the world. Especially between women,” a Kurya reporter, Dinna Maningo, told Marie Claire. 

According to the practice, the younger woman is able to take a male partner and potentially give birth to male heirs on the older woman's behalf.

Mugosi Maningo and Anastasia Juma are one such couple.  Mugosi’s husband left her 10 years ago, while Anastasia had survived a forced marriage at the age of 13, was treated like a slave by her husband, and ran away after giving birth to his child. The pair married in 2015.

“I certainly didn’t want another husband. Marrying a woman seemed the best solution,” Anastasia said. 

The two women will soon reach their first anniversary as a married couple. They're not sure if they'll do anything to celebrate the occasion—their lives are busy with their land, their livestock, and their three boisterous boys. "Anastasia likes goat meat, so I might cook some for her as an anniversary treat," says Mugosi. Anastasia is excited about their future together.  “The marriage is working out better than I could have imagined. I wasn’t sure at first, because it was such a new experience—now, I wouldn’t choose any other way.”

As modern as this practice sounds, it's quite an old custom, but wasn't created with the modern implications it now has. Kurya women are only now waking up to the fact that they can use this custom to find a stable home, devoid of the domestic and sexual violence traditional heterosexual marriages stand for, and also to choose their own male sexual partner. As reporter Dinna Maningo says, the problems of domestic abuse, child marriage, and female genital mutilation are rife in their society.


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