Wife wins 10-year battle to bury her female 'husband'

Mukethe Wanza, 59, displays pictures of her late 'husband' Alice Wanza at their Kalama village home in Machakos County. Wanza's body has been at Machakos Level Five Hospital mortuary since 2008. [Philip Muasya]
For 10 years, Mukethe Wanza has been yearning to bury her late 'husband' whose body has been lying at Machakos Level Five Hospital mortuary.

The decade-long delay was occasioned by a protracted court case, after Mukethe obtained a court order, barring her brother-in-law from burying the deceased in his farm contrary to her wishes. That was in December 2008.

The case would drag on for years, draining her emotionally and the little resources she had.

However, on Thursday, a Machakos court ended the 10-year legal battle, granting her the rights to bury her 'husband' and, together with her six children, inherit the his estate which includes 15-acre land in Kalama village, Machakos County.

What oddly stood out in the court, however, was that the said 'husband' was another woman, Alice Wanza, who died aged 65.

Alice 'married' Mukethe because she could not give birth, in line with acceptable Kamba cultural traditions. Together, the two women were blessed with six children, all grown up now.

In Kamba culture, a barren woman is allowed to marry a fellow woman in an arrangement referred to as Iweto or Kaweto. The marrying woman would then go ahead and perform all traditional rights such as paying bride price.

Barren woman

The wife is then free to bring forth children, either by a man chosen for her by the 'husband' or one she chooses.

Children born out of this arrangement take the name of the barren woman as their surname.

A week after Wanza's death, Mukethe said Wanza's brother, Francis Nzioka, secretly planned to bury her in his farm yet she had her own home. She immediately moved to court and stopped him.

"He wanted to kick me out of his sister's farm so as to inherit it as well as other properties," she said.

She had earlier told the court that before Alice died, she had identified a grave site next to her house at the foot of Mbevo hills in Kalama where she wished to be buried.

Delivering his ruling at Machakos Law Courts on Thursday, Chief Magistrate Alfred Kibiru said Mukethe was rightfully and traditionally married to the deceased and therefore had all the rights to bury her 'husband' and inherit her estate.

The magistrate added that Nzioka had no justification to block his sister-in-law from burying her 'husband' in their matrimonial home.

"It is the order of this court that the remains of Alice Wanza be released to the plaintiff (Mukethe Wanza) for interment.

"The court orders that the deceased be interred in a piece of land known as Kalama/Mumandu.

"The medical Officer of Health for Machakos Level Five Hospital is hereby directed to comply with the orders accordingly," the magistrate ruled.

Each of the parties were ordered to bear the costs of the suit.

As soon as the ruling was made, Mukethe, 59, shed tears of joy as her first son Mutisya Wanza guided her outside the court room.

She described the 10-year tussle as a financial dragon that had weighed heavily on the family, forcing them to dispose of some of their property in search of justice.

As proof that she was legally married to the deceased, Mukethe produced in court an affidavit and called several witnesses among them Wambua Kimee, the chairman of Aiyiini clan, who witnessed the deceased paying bride price for her.

"All through, we recognised Mukethe as the wife of Alice and we are happy that finally the court has done the right thing," Mzee Kimee said.

The family is now faced with the headache of paying Sh1 million mortuary fees.

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Mukethe Wanzamachakos countyfamily row