Meet a community where traditional surrogacy is celebrated
By Lilian Kaivilu
In most African communities, bearing a child, and most importantly a boy-child is perceived a major achievement for any woman. In Ukambani region in Kenya, the culture allows infertile women and those seeking to have sons, to seek surrogacy services from other women in the community. Lilian Kaivilu explored this almost taboo topic in the area…
At about 2pm in the quiet Kyumbe village in Kitui County, Katuva Kilumbu prepares lunch outside her main house. She hums a Kamba song as she awaits her children to come from school. Kilumbu expects her three children, all in Kyumbe Primary School, to return from school by 3pm.
I unconsciously display some sense of shock, trying to figure out how Kilumbu, at her advanced age, could have children in lower primary. The woman, in her late 60s, quickly notices my shock and offers to explain. “You see, I have some young children here. They are my children!” she clarifies.
Kilumbu goes ahead to explain how she got the five children, all bearing her name. They call her ‘mother’. “I am married to a young woman. If my Kaweto (the Kamba translation for a surrogate mother) appeared here, you would imagine that she is a woman married by a man. I have taken good care of her,” she brags.
She is a mother of one daughter, who got married over 20 years ago. “We are marrying surrogates in order to create a clan and a name for ourselves. If I marry a girl who gives me sons, they will keep my legacy and take care of my possession. You see, just because you do not have children, your relatives and other neighbours might target to take away your property,” Kilumbu explains.
Just like any other customary marriage, Kilumbu paid dowry for her surrogate. Traditionally, the Kamba culture only allowed surrogates to sire children with the men that had been allocated to them. But Kilumbu says that the culture is slowly changing and the surrogate mothers are allowed to choose who to sire children with. “These women choose for themselves as long as she brings a child. Nowadays, we are flexible. For me, all I need is children.”
She is, however, quick to clarify that, although she paid dowry for the surrogate, at no point does she have a sexual relationship with the young woman. “She is like my daughter. Culturally, a Kaweto is not my wife by the wife of my absent son. That is why this kind of marriage is only among women who are either barren or do not have sons.”
When asked why she would not opt for child adoption, Kilumbu quickly dismisses the idea, saying that one may end up with a child with problematic genes. “These children for adoption have all sorts of histories. I would rather marry from a family that I know well.”
She reveals that severally, some organizations have pleaded with women in the area to drop the practice of surrogacy. “I feel like their idea is just to have us adopt the many children in the children homes. My fear with this modernization is that you may end up buying a terrorist child or a child from the wrong culture,” she says.