Woman marriage by the sound of it may sound strange and confusing to those hearing it for the first time while others might interpret it to mean an act propagate by the feminist movement. The truth is that this concept of woman marriage is happening right here in some parts of Nigeria and Africa society. Woman marriage also known as a woman to woman marriage is not something you hear in all corners of Nigeria society, although this concept may not be a common practice among some ethnic groups, it sure exists and manifests in the socio-cultural Nigeria society. The idea of woman-to-woman marriage is not something new to traditional Nigerian society, it has been with them since the inception of their traditional cultural society. According to Miebaka Fiberesima, a native of Okrika in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria state that the reason for woman marriage is done to continue a family name in a case when the wife does not have male children, she marries a wife with the hope of having male children to carry on her husband's family name.
The origin of this concept is hard to trace in which scholars find it difficult to peg a specific date. O'Brien traces the origin of the concept of woman marriage as early as the eighteenth century, the reason for this date is when western scholars took knee interest in Africa studies, while some trace the origin to that of the Abrahamic era in the book of Genesis 16:2 is quoted as;
“And so she said Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children, why don’t you sleep with my slave? Perhaps she can have a child for me.” Abram agreed with Sarai proposal.1
It is rational to assert that the origin of woman marriage is as old as the civilization of those African societies that was and still in existence.
According to Krige, woman marriage refers to the institution whereby a woman marries another woman and assumes control over her and her offspring.2 the idea is for the woman (wife) to bear children for the female husband in this case of woman marriage all traditional ceremonies aspect of marriage rites are observed, dowry are paid to the girl's father and all the customs associated with marriage are applicable (even the rite of divorce).
They are discounted views on woman marriage in which some argues that woman marriage may involve lesbianism, reason that the female husband might engage in some sort of sexual activities with the wife, however, this claim was distorted by Amadiume in her study, she wrote that the act of lesbianism would be "totally inapplicable, shocking and offensive to Nnobi women since the strong bonds and support between them do not imply lesbian sexual practices." She vehemently opposes those Western lesbians who have claimed that woman marriage practice "to justify their choices of sexual alternatives which have roots and meaning in the West"3
O'Brien gives a list of African societies that practiced woman marriage. In West Africa (mainly Nigeria) are Yoruba, Ekiti, Bunu, Akoko, Yagba, Nupe, Ibo, Ijaw, and Fon (or Dahomeans); South Africa (especially the Transvaal) are Venda, Lovedu, Pedi, Hurutshe, Zulu, Sotho, Phalaborwa, Narene, Koni, and Tawana; East Africa is Kuria, Iregi, Kenye, Suba, Simbiti, Ngoreme, Gusii, Kipsigis, Nandi, Kikuyu, and Luo; while in Sudan are Nuer, Dinka, and Shilluk. Also, others have noted the practice among the Kalahari of West Africa and the Kamba of East Africa.4
In Nigeria, woman marriage is common among the people of the Southern region especially those from South-Eastern Nigeria; which are Anambra, Enugu (people from that state are ardent proponent), Imo, Abia, and Ebonyi (are not that common in their society but the idea is not abrogated). Africans are known to adore the idea of promoting their lineage and as such enjoyed the importance of procreation (especially a male child) is one of the reasons for this practice, carrying on with family name and legacies is very important to the people. Due to this, couples who have only daughters would not have children to carry on their names and that is what Woman marriage proffers a solution to. Woman marriage also gives the woman a chance to bear children that will continue the husband's name. What this marriage does is, it saves the family's name of the other dowry-payer. Women engage in this practice for three basic circumstances; barrenness, widowhood, and social discriminations, all to the end of increasing the woman's (Female husband) social status.
Barrenness and Widowhood
Barrenness is one of the major circumstances the reason for a woman's marriage. Marriage among Nigerians is not complete without children, reasons for marriage among Africans is for the people to form a union with the primary aim of procreating, this reason is what will make a barren woman engage in this practice to secure her place in the marriage and the same time close the door for the competition of a second wife. Traditionally, an African woman's role in society is to marry and be fruitful in procreating (all due respect to feminism). A barren woman is somehow seen as a social disgrace due to her ability to nurture a child in existence.
A barren wife can resolve her unfortunate social position by engaging in a woman marriage. In some cases, the wife bears children for the woman (female husband), which brings honor and glory to the female husband and also to the husband of the barren woman. Among the Igbo and Kalahari communities, the female husband gives her wife to her husband or his male kin to procreate; an outsider would never be brought in as a lover.
In the case of a widower whose husband dies, she adopts a woman marriage in which the wife will give her offspring that will continue her late husband's name. The wife might be given someone from the late husband lineage or someone else all these are under the jurisdiction of the female husband.
Woman marriage increases the female husband's economic status and children is what secures a woman’s right to her husband's wealth. If a woman has no children, she has no claim on her husband's property upon his death and may have to leave the land on which she is likely to have lived for decades. Herskovits captures this argument that an offspring from a woman's marriage gives the female husband a secure economic standing by maintaining her rights to occupy property that is inherited by her children.5
Woman marriage as providing an insight into the concept of family and marriage in African society, this concept has given women (barren) a chance to belong to the class of motherhood and a place and share in her husband's property/estate.
Rights of the Female Husband’s Wife
The female husband owes the wife in woman marriage, the wife is seen as a property of the female husband not as equal to the female husband‘s husband. In some Africa societies that practice woman marriage, the power of the female husband over her wife is that of an African husband over his wife, such control of the female husband includes choosing the man with whom her wife will produce offspring with the female husband's husband or any of her husband's close male kin (this is only applicable in the case of when the husband of the female husband is dead).6 The wife does not have the right of the female husband to her husband. The privilege of the wife is only procreation, she (wife) is regarded as a property whose duty is to produce offspring for the female husband.
Is the institution of woman marriage still in existence in Nigeria? Western religion and education are the main reason that contributes to the decline of these practices. The advent and systematic enforcement of alien (Christianity and Islam) religion in Africa to some extent is eroding the institution of woman marriage. Christianity places a banned on polygamist (both male and female) by depriving defaulters of part-taking in their religious sacrifice (like receiving communion), although the account of Sarah explained the concept behind woman marriage in the bible in which Sarah (a barren) wife to Abraham gave her slave to her husband to produce offspring on her behalf (the female husband marries the wife as a purchased slave whose duties is to produce offspring for the female husband). However, Islam supports polygamy (males are allowed under Islamic law) but frowns against woman marriage but a woman can look for a wife for her husband and it is the husband that will perform all the rite since the women are exempted from paying dowry.
In a study conducted by Okonjo among the western Igbo women, the data shows that women are becoming less tolerant of the institution of woman marriage. Among women aged 15 to 24, 95 percent disapprove of the institution, as do 91 percent of women aged 25 to 44 and 89 percent of women between ages 45 to 64; only 73 percent of women above age 65 disapprove of the practices.7 However the data might show some level of disapproval in woman marriage but some women still practice it. The reason for this distortion is due to the influx of western religion and education that has greatly affected the cultural norms in Africa society but that has not eradicated the institution in Nigeria or Africa where it is recognized.
The Holy Bible Good News Translation book of Genesis 16:2
Krige, E.J. "Woman marriage with special reference to the Loved - Its significance for the definition of marriage." Africa 44(1): 1974, pp.11 -36.
Amadiume, I. Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society. London: Zed Books. 1987, p. 7
O'Brien, D. "Female husbands in Southern Bantu societies." Pp. 99-1 08 in A. Schlegel (ed.), Sexual Stratification: A Cross-Cultural View. New York: Columbia University. 1977, p. 109
Herskovits, M. 1937 "A note on 'woman marriage' in Dahomey." Africa 10(3): 1937, p.336
Jean R Cadigan, Woman-to-woman marriage: practices and benefits in Sub-Saharan Africa.(Special Issue: Comparative Perspectives on Black Family Life, vol. 1, retrieved from. https://media.smith.edu/media/assistivetech/atlibrary/cardigan_woman.pdf
Okonjo, K. "Aspects of continuity and change in mate selection among the Igbo West of the River Niger." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 23(3): 1992, pp.339-360.