Cultural hurdles standing between widowers and remarrying
They say a woman or wife is the backbone of any household, especially in our African cultural set-up.
That is why, the majority of men whose wives die desire to remarry immediately after laying to rest their deceased wives.
But for some communities, remarrying is not always a walk in the park due to the cultural and family obstacles that come with it, with most of them having different understanding of how that should be carried out.
Lucas Ogola from Homa Bay County lost his wife in 2015, leaving behind four children to fend for.
“It was hard for me because I used to be the provider while my wife took care of our children. And then things changed and I had to play both roles. I saw it suitable to just look for another woman and marry to take care of me and my children,” he says.
Before his wife’s death, he was able to build her a semi-permanent house, which she lived in.
But cultural barriers stood between his desires to remarry and bring home a woman of his dream.
“In Luo culture, I could not marry and stay in the same house I lived with my deceased wife. Doing that was against our taboos and also disrespect to my late wife and also culture,” he says.
Dos and Don’ts
Ogola says with poverty stinging deep in his family, his hope to have a woman to take care of him and his children remained a far-fetched dream.
With the challenges he was facing playing both mother and father roles, he had to construct a temporary house using mud and old iron sheets where he and his new wife lived as they prayed for a miracle to enable them to build a decent semi-permanent house.
Vitalis Ougo, an African cultural expert with vast knowledge on Luo traditions says the long-lived traditions, which were put in place by their forefathers were meant to bring forth respect for both the soul of the deceased wife and the children of the first wife.
He says despite the departure of the woman from the earth, the culture still recognises the woman as the first wife and her presence is recognised through her house and, therefore no other woman is allowed to call it her own.
“There are some families, which have exceptions if the man is poor and cannot afford a new house. The man is allowed to temporarily bring the new wife to that house, but they cannot sleep in the same bedroom the man slept with the late wife or use the same bed and beddings they used,” he says.
He says it is an abomination for the man and his new wife to sleep in that bedroom or bed and the couple risk getting traditional curses.
“If the couple goes ahead and bear children conceived in the bedroom or bed where the first wife slept with the man, those children are likely to be born with abnormalities and disabilities,” he adds.
Ougo further clarifies that even before the man remarries, he has to wait until he is released by the late wife by seeing her in his dreams.
He is then required to alert the elders who then give their blessings to remarry.
And since the late wife’s house is left for the children, the man is later expected to construct a house for his second wife on the right side of the late wife’s house.
Ougo says the house remains a place where children of the deceased wife will call home and the first son is allowed to bring his wife there.
In the Luhya community, a widower is also not allowed to sleep under the same roof he slept with his first wife.
The man has an option to either construct a different house for his wife or remove the roofing of the old house.
Unbinded by the culture
While communities from Nyanza and Western parts of Kenya are well known for their traditions, Ougo says some of the families are letting go of some of these beliefs.
“Education, religion and even technology is slowly wiping off some of these traditions. There are families that no longer observe these traditions and slowly forging their own paths on how they preserve respect for various matters in their families,” he says.
And while some communities do not have such elaborate traditions on remarrying, some women have confessed to be facing challenges living in the same house the deceased wife lived.
Sarah Wakio who is married to a widower says she has had challenges convincing her husband to build her a different house or even changing some of the beddings, which were previously used by the former wife.
Wakio says the late wife took part in the construction of the house and, therefore, her contribution is highly regarded by the husband. “My husband has totally refused to change some of the things in the house, even removing her portrait from the living room. He normally says the house belongs to the late wife and children. That makes me feel like I’m a stranger invading someone’s house,” she says.
She says even though she wishes to have a house of her own, her husband thinkgs it will be a waste of resources to construct a separate house since the Taita tradition does not forbid bringing a new wife into the deceased wife’s house.
Sheikh Juma Ngao, the national chair of Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council (KEMNAC) says Islam does not have any reservation on a widower bringing a new wife to the same house he lived with the deceased wife. He says as long as the new wife loves and cares for the children of the first wife, there are no restrictions.
“If the woman looks like someone troublesome and might fall out with the children, then the husband is guided to get her a different house,” he says.
Ngao also says the new wife is also allowed to sleep in the same room and even bed as long as the furniture was not part of the deceased wife’s dowry.
“In Islam, dowry can come in the form of furniture. So, if the bed was part of the deceased wife’s furniture, then they are supposed to replace it. They are forbidden from sleeping on the first wife’s furniture,” he adds.