A crop of widows in Nyanza are breaking the last Aids barrier by rebuffing a long held cultural practice reports Charles Aboge.
When Mildred Akinyi, A HIV positive widow recently declined a proposal to be inherited, the entire community was stunned.
Her decision sparked a series of heated debates over this deeply rooted cultural practise highly prevalent in West Kenya region. But since then, Akinyi, who is a member of the St. Monica Widows Group which operates under the Catholic Archdiocese in Siaya has been viewed as a hero. Her decision has brought reprieve to countless widows in the region.
Defiant but astute many widows in Nyanza province are now breaking free from the fetters of this cultural practice.
Father Thaddaeus Oluoch, the chaplain of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kisumu while condemning the practice says it has subjected women into highly demeaning rituals.
“It involves forced ritual sex seen as a form of cleansing and the women are often harassed”
In some cases, some of the widows either get infected with the Aids virus or help spread it. However, inheritance is taking new dimension as some Luo elders at the village level in Siaya are allegedly encouraging some widows suspected to be HIV positive to hire commercial inheritors at an exorbitant fee.
Father Oluoch who works with the defiant widows, has expressed concern over the number of “commercial inheritors christened “joter” who are too costly to hire since they demand a balanced diet and huge “ugali” on top of the inheritance fee before engaging in ritual sex even with the corpse before burial.
“This has been a major set back to our endeavors since many widows are opting to pay for the services for the fear of being neglected by their in-laws and to avoid the “ghosts of the deceased” from invading the home,” says he.
The priests speaks for thousands of Luo widows suffering their agony in silence who must comply with the dictates of society and must be inherited.
The widows on the other hand revealed that they normally lure “border –border cyclists “ or ‘japer’ from a neighboring community who prefer cash, heads of cattle or decent diet and alcohol before they proceed with the ritual sex the entire night. They are then seen as the inheritors of the deceased‘s wealth. The practice has attracted many strangers from a neighboring community in Siaya District who are paid affront for the “historic game.”
One noted inheritor, name withheld said “when widows fall in love with me for ritual sex it means I have to admit a death sentence in form of illicit sex in exchange for wealth”
He further said the practice is very dangerous but lucrative and a way must be found to tame relatives who intimidate widows in forced sex with strangers “japer” just to inherit them
Some of the widows demanded that doctors be mandated to publicly declare the cause of their patients death inorder to alert the would be inheritors.
The would be inheritor is chosen by the deceased’s relatives during the funeral ceremony which last weeks as people feast and dance while others mourn..
Tired of the practice, the affected widows formed the Association through the church parishes, whose membership covers the entire Nana province. The group crusades against cultural practices in Luo community that spread HIV/Aids.
During their annual convention held at Yala Catholic Parish in August last year, the well over a thousand widows addressed the issue of wife inheritance and the debate went on unabated in the presence of stakeholders.
They unanimously layed forth the need for widows to be assisted financially, socially and spiritually as some of them according to Father Oluoch are left homeless by their irate relatives who even loot their husbands properties.
“Some widows are left in a dilapidated houses vandalized during the funeral ceremony and for the widows to build a new house, she must enter in with an axe and a cock plus a new “husband” normally on hire or the would be inheritor” .
The inheritor symbolically acts as a husband when during ground breaking ceremony of the new house and must have sex with her that night.
St.Monica group aims at empowering such widows and to help them start income generating activities.
The Group advocates for total abstinence by widows as experts on HIV/Aids believe it is among the last barriers to reversing the spread of Aids disease.
Nevertheless, clan elders feel the society has mistaken the Luos terming them as immoral and primitive. The reason for the practice they insist is to ensure the widow is taken care of even after the death if her spouse
They say there is a fine distinction between desire and disorders which “Jater” and the widow must observe including rape prevention. Luo widows who are past menopause age also go for ritual sex to cleanse their family leading to sexual abuse.
But even so the widows remain defiant. They will hear none of it.