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When a brother-in-law 'entertained' sister-in-law

By By PKEMOI NGENOH | September 7th 2013


African culture in general recognises marriage to be complete when a child is born days or months after a certain couple is declared husband and wife.

In some instances though, medical challenges or other diseases that cause barrenness knocks, hence making the couple unable to bear children for decades and sometimes for ever.

When such a misfortune strikes a family, many a times it is the woman who carries all the blame from relatives and the community even when no one has confirmed who between two has a problem.

Some communities, however, support marrying of a second wife if it was discovered that the first wife cannot bear a child, others root for divorce and a few are known to go for adoption. Worse still, some men divorce their wives to end the marriage.

In Kalenjin community, for instance, a brother-in-law was allowed to entertain his sister-in-law when it was found out that the man had a problem and was unable to bear children.

The decision was reached after a meeting convened by the elders for the couple to undergo brief counselling and the man be allowed to name who among his brothers will take over from him in what was referred to as kilal maat (to light the fire).

Though many people think the ritual died long time ago, elders still argue that the practice is still alive in some rural areas, but is conducted under utmost care and secrecy lest the third parties get wind of it in this digital generation.

Chosen brother

“That is what the forefathers used to do, sometimes when young men went for battles they got injured to an extent of being unable to bear children. For now we cannot rule out that the ritual is dead and buried with our forefathers,” laments Mzee Rono.

According to the elder, the chosen brother would visit his brother’s wife to perform the ‘assignment’ at any given time until the mission was successful as the man who chose him kept away. The woman was also supposed to visit the appointed man’s house any time she felt like.

“It is out of order for a man in our community to live alone without adding a child to his family and addition to the clan in general, hence the elders would sit and deliberate on how to assist such men who were unable to bear children. The elders also assisted some men who did not have courage to seduce a woman,” adds the elder.

If such a man’s family did not have another brother, the elders would call another meeting to reach for an eligible man from the same clan in what is referred to as kung’wos (to reach for somebody with close blood or clan).

Allowing a stranger or person who did not have blood ties with such a man would make the mission fruitless even if the woman tried on her own. Once the mission became successful, the hero would be feted at another ceremony known as kebasta, where he would be given a cow as an appreciation token by the family. The man also qualified for the second time if need arose or if the brother needed another child.

Such arrangements succeeded since involved parties had to take oaths never to reveal the family secrets even when other people started comparing the offspring with the man behind the mission.

Elders, however, argue that such plans would not see the light in this digital age because a little misunderstanding between such partners will spread all over the village like wild fire, saying that nowadays people rarely keep secrets.


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