After 10 years of marriage without a child in the 1960s, she did what would sound crazy in the eyes of many. Elizabeth Chemesunde Olekima, 87, divorced her husband and sought fellow women to start a new family. The Nandi culture allows a barren woman to marry another woman to sire children with her husband or another man of her choice — a form of surrogacy. In early 1970s, she started looking for a wife, got one, paid dowry and started living with her. Her desire to have many children saw her negotiate and pay dowry for other three wives, a rare feat but elders approved the marriage. Chemesunde grew up at Kapkoi in Uasin Gishu and in Nandi and got married and settled in Kilgoris. When she couldn’t bear any children, she returned to Nandi where her relatives and elders approved her intentions to marry. "I wanted to marry so that I can have children to maintain our family lineage," she says. Chemesunde says she met her first wife and negotiated with her parents and later paid seven cows.
"The same was done for my second, third and fourth wives. I paid their parents, five and seven cows respectively," she said. A man, she recalls, eloped with her first wife, while the second passed on some years back. She is now left with two wives and eight children. The women respect and love her as their ‘husband’. Due to the role she took upon herself, Chemesunde is expected to be the family’s breadwinner, a role she says she has done well through farming. She stays with one of the wives, Esther Olekima at Kapsundei village in Kilgoris where she has bought two acres of land and two cows. The second stays in a four-acre land in Tinderet, Nandi East District. "We met in Tinderet and she convinced me into marriage," says Olekima, 45, who is Chemesunde’s fourth wife. They sealed the marriage at a traditional ceremony. According to the Nandi customs, Chemesunde can choose men for her wives. In this kind of arrangement, a woman is also allowed to look out for ‘suitable’ men to sire children with. This means a woman married under this arrangement can have children with different men. The men cannot lay claim to the children as they belong to the ‘husband’ who married the women. The third wife, Eunice Tapkili, lives in Tinderet and has four children. "I wanted my wives to have separate homes in Tinderet and Kapsundei to avoid any conflicts or competition amongst them," said Chemesunde. The octogenarian is not worried that her wives will be dispossessed when she passes on. The Nandi culture protects property of women married by other women. This means no one can claim the lands that Chemesunde has bought for her wives. Two of her sons are married and her last born is in Class Seven. Such marriages are also practised among the Abagusii and Kuria communities... Standard Media