Rosemary Khayese, a resident of Bungoma, recalls the day in 1990 when her husband chased her away from their home after giving birth to twins.
“My husband’s parents were categorical that it was a taboo for a woman, who is pregnant for the first time (primigravida) to deliver twins. They suggested that one of the babies had to be killed,” says Khayese.
The 58-year-old mother was heartbroken. She was in a dilemma.
After a lot of soul searching, she chose to walk away from her two-year marriage. She could not imagine giving away one of the babies to be killed.
Khayese was forced to raise the twins alone. “I believe I did the right thing, because my sons, who are in their early thirties have become my source of hope and strength in life. One is a doctor and the other is an engineer,” Khayese told The Standard on phone.
She is not alone.
Venvera Ivayo, 38, who hails from Luyeshe village in Kakamega North, said her marriage hit the rocks the day it was discovered she was pregnant with twins.
Ivayo recalls how she almost lost her sons, now aged eight, due to retrogressive traditions that don’t allow twins to live. She had four miscarriages before conceiving twins in 2013 and her husband’s family was not happy about it.
“I broke the news to my husband who was very happy. However, when he told his parents, hell broke loose. Days later, my husband became a different person. He became cold and didn’t want anything to do with me,” recalls Ivayo.
She later learnt that his relatives warned her husband that he would die if he accepted the twins to be born.
“They held to a belief that if a woman gives birth to twins, then their father or mother would die depending on the sex of the babies,” said Ivayo.
After giving birth, she brought the twins home for shaving as culture dictates, but no one received her.
“We were kept waiting at the gate from morning until evening without anyone uttering a word. Later, I was told cleansing rituals had to be conducted first,” said Ivayo.
She shaved her sons and named them ‘Israel’ as advised by an old woman. “The woman told me the children could not be killed once they attain six months and advised me to stay put,” said Ivayo.
When the twins turned 11 months, she returned to her matrimonial home, and luckily, her husband and relatives accepted her back.
“I’m happy I was accepted back. My children are in Form Three. Our separation affected them and pushed them into depression. This outdated culture must be discouraged since it hurts many women and innocent children,” she said.
Tracy Diana (not her real name) was abandoned at Kakamega County General Hospital by her husband, six months after giving birth to twins.
“My husband and his family came to see me in hospital and told me that I was not welcome in their home. They suggested that I go back to my parents,” said Diana.
She had been married for one year and could not imagine her husband, whom she met in college, could turn against her.
“I had to reach out to my parents for assistance. They came for us and agreed to take care of me and the babies,” says Diana, who hails from Kakamega North.
But Diana’s husband appears to have changed his mind and recently, asked her to return home. “He confided that his conscience would not allow him to abandon his daughter, son and wife despite what culture stipulates.”
Diana’s father said elders from his community and that of his son-in-law had to deliberate on the matter.
“Since the twins were of the opposite sex, the elders agreed that there would be no curse in the family. Things would have been worse if the twins were of same-sex,” he said.
Some elders from Luhya community said the culture of abandoning twins or killing them has no place in present society.
Elijah Wakhungu, a Bukusu elder from Namang’oflo village in Bungoma County, said in the past, twins or any form of multiple births were regarded a taboo and one of the babies had to be killed in a ritual meant to appease ancestors.
“It was one way of breaking the curse and ostracising the evil spirit,” explains Wakhungu.
He said special rituals were performed, where a black goat or sheep would be slaughtered and the dung smeared on the mother and her twins as a way of cleansing them. This, according to Wakhungu, also ensured the babies grew up healthy and curse-free.
“Before the ritual was done, the mother and her twins would be secluded for a specified period of time and thereafter, the animal would be slaughtered and a special ceremony conducted to cleanse the mother and her babies,” says Wakhungu.
Further, the mother would cover herself with leaves from a special tree or banana plant on the day she emerged in public for the first time with her twins.
“A respectable elder was invited to perform the ceremony. He would proceed into the house, where the mother and her babies were hiding and use a special three-pronged stick to push the door open. The elder would sip concoction and some liquor, which he would spit to the twins’ faces and their mother as part of the elaborate cleansing rituals”, Wakhungu added.
He says twins are still considered a curse among some Luhya sub-tribes but rituals are done in secrecy.