We have heard about it in hush tones, on the corners of the streets, with the periphery of our ears. It has been in many a conversation reserved for the home, in this century of human rediscovery. However, no one seems to have the facts. Many have denied it. Women do not marry women in my culture, we hear often. Do women marry women in Nigeria or not? Some people have demanded. And an answer or a semblance of an answer would be provided.
Although it may not be a common practice in modern times, it sure happens. Marriage for Nigerians (at least back in the days) is not complete without children. Hence, marriage was to the people a union with the primary aim of procreating. This background is vital to understand the context of woman-woman marriages in Nigeria in this modern era.
Several people might find it very hard to believe but once upon a time and up till now, women pay other women’s dowries and sometimes take them under their roofs. Although, people get defensive as to what happens when the women are alone, it is believed sexual activities between the women do not occur.
Pre-colonization, evidence shows that the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria practiced this tradition so that one of the women (now deemed the husband) could hold on to her assets or an inheritance.
This is because wealthy, influential women enjoyed equal privilege with their male counterparts. So, these women of high status were allowed to marry ‘wives’ by paying their bride-price.
Once married, these ‘wives’ could pick their male sperm donors, the husband was also allowed to have a male companion that “satisfied her erotic desires,” according to Chukwuemeka.
These children carried the female husband’s name, not that of the man responsible for the pregnancy and were considered legitimate in society’s eyes.
This tradition was also practiced by women past menopause. These group of women could marry wives for themselves, for their husbands, for their sons, and/or for their siblings.
Studies have found that this tradition was practiced among other ethnic groups, with slight differences in how it is done. Unlike the Igbos who mostly did it to keep their assets in the family, the Yorubas did it to keep a widow in the family.
For instance, a widow could be permitted to marry a female relative if she wanted to remain with her in-laws. This can only be when there are no men in the family.
In other pre-colonial societies, widows and women who could not have children were allowed to take widows wives and claim the children their wives had as their own.
The essence of these marriages is to procreate children for the woman paying the dowry. It is expected that women whose dowries are paid by other women have children who will bear the surname of the dowry payer.
The rationale behind this is simple. Among the Okrikas and many other people of the world, women in heterosexual marriages are expected to change their names after marriage and adopt the names of their husbands.
“We have a reason for it.” An Okrika native, Miebaka Fiberesima says. “It’s done to continue a family name. If the wife does not have male children, she can also marry a wife with the hope of having male children to carry on her husband’s family name.
“She can also do that if her family has no male child and the children from the marriage will carry her family’s name”
Carrying on with family names 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. Woman-woman marriages offer a solution to that. It provides an opportunity for women to bear children that will carry their names as surnames and be of their parent’s family. What this marriage does is, it saves the family’s name of the other dowry-payer.
Women who pay other women dowries can also do that while married to men. Women whose dowries are paid by women are not looked at less than women whose dowries had been paid by men. These women are looked at as normal. Although many of the women whose dowries are paid by other women in these contemporary times have happened to have been single mothers before the payment of their dowries, years ago, younger single girls get into the women-women marriages and even have their first child from the marriage.