Kenya: The time is ripe for the Luos to abandon “Wife Inheritance” obnoxious practices


It is time the Luos abandoned this repugnant and backward tradition and culture.

News Analysis By Leo Odera Omolo In kisumu City

The last two weeks were so bad. A number of shocking incidents occurred in various parts of Luo-Nyanza involving grisly murder of young women and their children ,one of which the entire family of a mother and her three children were whipped out by her bloody thirsty inheritors.

In all the reported incidents, the suspect culprits were reported to be strangers who came from unknown strangers who came handy to inherit the widow left behind by their deceased husbands.

Luos are the fourth largest single tribes in Kenya following the Kalenji, Luhyia and Kikuyu. But the communities still practising some heathen and unacceptable tradition, which are unacceptable to the modern society in Kenya.

But the shocking action of beast like inheritors, which saw many families shedding tears and burying their beloved young ones, has left everybody in this region where such repugnant and abominable backward practices are still very common and thriving among the families and clans despite of advanced information torth3 villages about the scourge of Hiv/Aids epidemic.

It calls for the elders and key figures and politicians within the community to go back into drawing board. They should brain storm and chart for the best way of educating families against the danger of “Wife Inheritance” practices. The practice is bad and ads no value to the family. And it is time it was abandoned. The practice has lost its original intention and value in the modern society.

The practice has increasingly become dangerous, because the younger generation of Luo male and females have abandoned the norms and cultural virtue and tradition, which were governing the “Wife inheritance” in the past. The community at large has lost disciplinary practices.

These days young widows in Luo-Nyanza can now pick anybody they meet in beer halls or in dark corners of the City, towns and market places, and the next day the couple become husband and wife. This is in sharp contrast, and completely contrary to the laid down cultural norms and tradition rules.

In the old days when this tradition thrived to the best interest of the families involved. It was a practice highly valued by the community. It was meant to protect both the wife and the children of the deceased. And not simply for sexual escapades between the inheritor and the widow as such, but it meant a lot to the families concerned.

The circumstance, in which a widow was required to be inherited, varied. First was for the continuity of the family. Secondly was for the protection of young children and property of the deceased. And that is the reason why the families used to go for the best man of good character and generous enough to take care of the welfare of the young children left behind by his cousin or brother in the same way he could cater for his own children. Lazy person who is known not to be active in farming or greedy fellow were out of bound for this noble practices which was cherished by the community for generations after generations.

Before the widow was inherited, there were behind the scene consultations between he and the elderly mothers within her immediate families. The role of the elderly women, most of them her mother-law was to advice her accordingly as to who is the best son within the family who could help her bring her young offspring’s up and so forth. .

It was a serious vetting. Men from families suspected of practicing witches, men from families known to be suffering from serious diseases such as leprosy, asthma, mental illness, tuberculosis, epilepsy and other complicated diseases were not recommended for the job..

If the widow had defied the elderly mother wisdom and settle on someone of suspicious characters such as thieves, trouble shooters, quarrelsome or temperamental persons, the elderly women would throw the matter back to the elderly men within the family to deliberate on the issue. They would summon the widow and told her point blank the reason why they were not keen to approve her choice, but if she remain defiance, she was then advised that after the rejected man is the only her choice, the she was required to dismantle her house within the family and go and settle in the homestead of the man she had chosen as the best person to inherit her. She would live their until she goes past her production life, now with grown up children would bring her back to the family and built a home for her and her children.

Wife beaters and drunkards and men with history of murder were also some of the characters not recommended by the elders. And so were thieve sand other unbecoming characters within the society.

In all aspect of the practice, it was to go for the best person whose good and proven manner and character.

In Litare village in Kamasengre, Rusinga West Location on Rusinga island massive man-hunt was still going on by the weekend of a man who set ablaze the house of the young wife he had inherited. The man is still at large and th4e man hunt led by the area Assistant chief has proved fruitless. He is suspected to have boarded a canoe and pedaled himself across the Mbita Channel and went into hiding on the main land part of Mbita district.

This attack came after the man and his inherited wife had some misunderstanding the previous night and the woman ejected the inheritor out of her house. But before the night fall she and her three children slipped out of the house and went to sleep in her grand mother’s house. The man returned under cover of darkness bolted the house from outside and set it ablaze thinking his wife and children were asleep inside .The assailant fled from the village thinking that he had killed the entire family, but did not realize he had missed the target. A lot of property was burnt to ashes. He is still at large.

In Migoto village, Suna Migori, Silvanus Owuor Lwamba was not lucky enough to escape the mob justice and punishment from his heinous act. She used hoe in smashing the head of his inherited wife Esther Akinyi, nine year daughter Lilian and one year old son Barack Odhiambo.and fled at night.

The village woke up in the morning and found the three lifeless bodies laying inside their house. Youth owning motor bike taxis in the village mobilized themselves and gave chase to the suspect with whom they caught up near Kenya Tanzania border as he headed to Tarime across the border. The tied him up brought him back to the scene of the murder and lynched him.

According to the relatives, the couple had disagreement before the incident. The suspect had a quarrel with the wife and this prompted a meeting under the chairmanship of the woman’s father where e decision was made that the two should part the company. This did decision did not pleased the suspect, but he never objected to it. But the family made one silly mistake of allowing the couple to go and sleep in one house. The suspect had begged for permission to stay in the house for the night since it was getting late in the evening so that he could go the next day.

The relatives say the couple was constantly quarreling and at one time separated for a couple of months before the killer came back after they were reconciled. Neighbor said the bodies had deep cut on the heads and neck and an axe which is suspected to have been used by the killer and a hoe were discovered covered in the house covered with blood.

In Ki9sumu, police had vigorously pursued the killer of wife and her three children at Nyalenda Peri-urban of the City, and caught with him in his native Siaya district. Before the suspect could be arraigned in court, police had a lot of difficulties keeping away the crowd of onlookers baying for his blood suspect’s blood.

The crow which camped outside the police forced the intervention of senior police officers who summoned the four fierce police dogs to disperse the crowd after their plea with the building up crowd to disperse peacefully and go home had hit the rock.

One senior police officers addressed the crowd and told them,’ We have the suspect and trials against him will be instituted soon,”said the PPO Larry Kieng urging the crowd to go peacefully.

“We want kill him instantly, if you let him go to prison, he will kill many more innocent people,” shouted a man from the crowd in perfect English.

The trouble had started at Koidiaga in Gem constituency along the Kisumu Busia road where the public had identified him and wanted to lynch him, but he was rescued by the police..

The suspect was seen selling a radio set when police from Dudi Police Post were trailing him following a tip off. The suspect was seen moving around the market while looking for a buyer for his radio, perhaps to get enough money to escape further to a distant place. A man who claimed he knew him shouted at the top of his voice and this attracted the public.

The accused had killed his wife Pamela Akiny Orawo and her three children and fled the town. Was said to have been a boda boda bicyle taxi operator in Nuyalenda area,. He escaped by the night and vanished until last weekend when the police caught him in Gem area near the border of Gem and Butere/Mumias districts. He had inherited the deceased six years ago after the death of her husband. It was not immediately established whether he was related to the deceased husband of the woman or just a handpicked friend and lover. He did not sire any of the slaughtered children with the deceased.

But this particular incident left the City of Kisumu a state of shock. There could have been more similar incidents, but which went unreported in various part of rural locations. Religious leaders and clergymen have contributed these series of killings to the excessive consumption of “Chang’aa” which has since been licensed by the government.


About the author, Leo Odera Omolo is a veteran Kisumu baswed journalist who comments on various topics and writing for several publication locally and abroad. He operates in Kisumu and parts of Tanzania and Uganda. He could be reached on Mobile phone No 0722 486181 and 0734 509215

4 thoughts on “Kenya: The time is ripe for the Luos to abandon “Wife Inheritance” obnoxious practices

  1. Odhiambo Anyango

    I do not see anything in this article that proves that “wife inheritance”, as derogatorily as this old Luo tradition is refered to in this and other articles contributed to the tragic happenings that have been reported in the local press. The common factor here is been the violence unleashed on the victims by drifters that remarried them after the deaths of their spouses. How has “wife inheritance” been responsible escapes and I am not known to be very daft. It my opinion that these victims would had been better protected had the tradition been applied in full. As a matter of fact this article is so contradictory that it is not worth the paper it is written on. These women went out of the traditional remarriage format, which it is their right to do is they choose so, and got themselves men to get married to. Their choice to go solo may or may not have encouraged the drifters to treat them as scam and ultimately kill them.
    There is nothing primitive and so outrageous that all the fire engines bells are on for its demolition. Remember that we have the Prime Minister as a product of ‘ter’ ( there is no equivalent term in English so don’t even try a translation) as evidence that properly conducted the tradition contributes to safety of a family for the benefit of the clan and even the nation at large.

  2. Avalanche

    The only downfall of wife inheritance is the big role it plays in the spread of HIV/AIDs. Some people just inherit wives without questioning what the husband died of.

  3. Yogo Mlanya

    The author has wisely used “wife inheritance” in qoutes as the nearest word to this would be remarrying as nobody can own a fellow human being who would then be inherited upon their death!We are told that the practice has lost its original intention without being told what this original intention was.The crime of wife murder has been reported in other parts of the country and the men involved in the two cases were murderers who would have done it whether these were “inherited wives” or their original wives.The article has largely dwelt on the issue of young widows and failed to address the cases of old widows where no sexual intercourse was involved but the concerned brother in law could just leave an item in the house to indicate that he was now responsible for matters in that house requiring a man as the head of the house.The reasons for’ ter’ are still valid even today and if proper channels are followed,there is no reason for abandoning it.People have not stopped flying because aeroplanes have been crashing!

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