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Widow cleansing and wife inheritance Among the Luo Community, This is What You Should Know

Widow cleansing and wife inheritance are customary practices that threaten the survival of the Luo community.
The Luo community is a Nilotic-speaking group who are believed to have originated from Sudan and are now settled around the Lake Victoria basin in Kenya and Northern Tanzania.

More than four million people, the Luo constitute the fourth largest ethnic group in Kenya this is according to a 2019 census conducted by the Kenya national bureau of statistics Polygamy and wife inheritance are customary practices practiced among the Luo.

“As luos, we have been observing this tradition of wife inheritance and widow cleansing from the past, it was introduced to us by our forefathers,” one of the Luo elder said.

A widowed woman who remains single is believed to be a sign of a bad omen in a society where she is associated with death.

A man’s funeral rites among the Luo are considered complete until his widow has been inherited.
This traditional practice requires her to remarry or at least be cleansed through sexual intercourse with a brother or a close relative of the deceased.

If she refuses she is confined to her home and prevented from visiting her neighbor’s home until she gives in to the cleansing rite.

Once a wife is inherited by the late husband’s brother, they both live together as husband and wife and they can have new children, the children of the inherited mother are attributed to her late husband.

“Wife inheritance was meant for the sake of the continuity of the deceased,” an elder said.
Anyango, not her real name has been widowed for the last ten years and is among many women in HomaBay County who refused the Luo customary practice of wife inheritance.
“I have been a widow for the past two years, the brother to my late husband wanted to inherit me but I refused, and because of that the family chased me away from their home and I have been avoided by people since that time,” she said.
Widows who are inherited for the purpose of fulfilling cultural obligations have a higher prevalence of HIV compared to those who remain uninherited.
Wife inheritance leads to the abandonment of children and the breakage of families.

“I had no other choice that is why I agreed to be inherited by my late husband’s brother who has not been behaving well ever seen we began to live together,” a widowed woman said.

Widow cleansing and wife inheritance are among the Luo customary practices that have been practiced over decades, however, these cultural practices have threatened the survival of this community due to
increased HIV infections

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