Ken Okoth and his wife

4 reasons why wife-sharing was practiced by many African communities

Ken Okoth’s death late last month opened a can of worms about some African traditions that the Luo community and some other African communities used to practice in the past.

One of those practices was wife inheritance. What were the reasons for this practice that seems to have been passed by time and age? The practice is closely tied to polygamy and where polygamy was practiced it was common to find wife-inheritance as a by-product.

The reasons why wife inheritance was practiced are below;


Extending the bloodline of the departed kin through the brother’s lineage

This was done as a way of preserving the identity and bloodline of the departed kin and that the man’s memory would be remembered.

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A way of taking care of widows and children

It is a widely held African belief that levirate marriage constitutes a means of taking care of widows. Levirate marriage is seen as a way of protecting both the widow and her children, who will be taken care of by the younger brother of the deceased.

At the time it was initiated, women were responsible for the house chores and men were the providers, therefore if the woman lost her husband, she would have no one to provide for the remaining family.

Keep wealth within the family

The practice was meant as a means for the widow to have someone to support her and her children financially and to keep her late husband’s wealth within the family bloodline. Because her in-laws would not want someone outside of the family’s bloodline to inherit her late husband’s estate, she was required to marry within the family.

A remedy against social exclusion

In many African cultures, it is the norm for an adult to be married and to have children, with marriage been termed as the backbone of African society. Single status in African cultures has a number of negative associations – one being witchcraft.

Single women have always been suspected of many evils, such as lack of feeling and a desire to break up other people’s marriages.

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