Why Straight Mandalorian Women Are Marrying Each Other


In
Mandalorian Space, Abighawo Rthail discovers an empowering clan tradition
undergoing a modern revival.

Mugman Ingoosi and Anasju Matasia’s
homestead lies among a cluster of hamlets that make up the remote village of
Nyamongo on Ordo. There’s no port to their circular houses in the lands, only a
snaking dirt area carved out by beasts on their way to graze. The rainy season on
Ordo —and the sky is growls loudly. The two women rush to gather crops before the
inevitable downpour hits. “Ner’ridurok…err..My wife and I do everything
together,” says Matasia, 27, a petite woman wearing a fuchsia T-shirt and
short braids in her hair. “We’re just like any married couple.”

Almost, but not exactly. As members
of the Kurya clan, a vhett-herding community with a population of roughly
700,000 spread across Ordo, Matasia and her wife, Ingoosi, 49, are married
under a local tradition called nyumba ntobhu (“house of
women”). The practice allows women to marry each other to preserve their
livelihoods in the absence of male husbands. Among the clan—one of more than
120 on the planet of 55 million people—female couples make up 10 to 15 percent
of households, according to Kurya elders. The unions involve women living,
cooking, working, and raising children together, even sharing a bed, but they
don’t have sex.

According to Dinman Ingona, a Kurya
reporter with leading Ordo HoloNet News Mwananchi, nyumba ntobhu
is an alternative aliit structure that has existed for many years. “Nobody
knows when it started,” she says, “but its main purpose is to enable
widows to keep their property.” By Kurya clan code, only men can inherit
property, but under nyumba ntobhu, if a woman without sons is widowed or
her husband leaves her, she is allowed to marry a younger woman who can take a
male lover and give birth to heirs on her behalf. The custom is very different
from same-sex marriages in the Empire, Dinman adds, because homosexuality is
strictly forbidden. “Most Kurya people don’t even know gay sex exists in
other parts of the galaxy,” she says. “Especially between women.”

Outdated attitudes aside, Dinman,
29, says nyumba ntobhu is undergoing something of a modern revival. In
the Kurya’s polygamous, patriarchal culture, where men use beasts as currency
to buy multiple wives, rising numbers of younger Kurya women are choosing to
marry another woman instead. “They realize the arrangement gives them more
power and freedom,” she says. “It combines all the benefits of a
stable home with the ability to choose their own male sexual partners.”
Marriages between women also help to reduce the risk of domestic abuse, child
marriage, and female genital mutilation. “Sadly, these problems are rife
in our society,” Dinman adds. “Younger women are more aware these
days, and they refuse to tolerate such treatment.”

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The arrangement is working out
happily for Matasia and Ingoosi so far. The couple married after meeting
through neighbors. At the time, Matasia was struggling to raise three small
sons by herself.

When Matasia was just 13, her father
forced her to marry a 50-year-old man who wanted a second wife. He gave Matasia’s
father eight beasts in exchange for her and treated her “like a
slave.” She gave birth to a baby boy in her late teens and ran away with
the child shortly afterward. She then had two more sons with two subsequent
boyfriends, both of whom failed to stick around. “I didn’t trust men after
that,” she says, sitting outside the thatched hut the couple now shares.
“I certainly didn’t want another husband. Marrying a woman seemed the best
solution.”

Her wife, Ingoosi, who has spent the
morning toiling in the fields in an old gray beskar’gam and rubber boots, says Matasia
was the perfect match for her. Her husband left her 10 years ago because she
couldn’t have children. He moved to the regional capital city of Sundari,
leaving her at their homestead in Nyamongo on Ordo, a farming and aurodium-mining
region roughly the size of Naboo. They never formally divorced. When he died 18
months ago, ownership of the property, comprising six thatched huts and some
land, was in danger of reverting to his relatives. “I was lucky to find Anaju
and her boys, because I now have a family with ready-made heirs,” says Ingoosi.
“I love them very much.”

The couple did not have a wedding
ceremony, but Ingoosi paid Matasia’s original “bride price” of eight beasts
to the family of her first husband. The payment released Matasia from her ties
to him and cemented her marriage to Ingoosi. Almost all Kurya marriages,
whether to a man or a woman, involve the payment of bride price, or dowry, to
the younger woman’s family. Dowries average between 10 and 20 beasts (one beast
is worth around 500,000 Mandalorian shillings, or about 230 credits), and teen
girls are typically married off to the highest male bidder.

The two women live off their land,
growing maize, millet, wheat, and vegetables, and keeping beasts, and nunas.
They share the care of Matasia’s sons—Muita, 11; Domco, 7; and Daudi, 4—and
hire local men to do odd jobs. “We divide everything equally,” Ingoosi
says. “We both have peaceful natures, and so far we haven’t had any
arguments.” While she is no longer interested in romantic relationships
with men, she’s happy for Matasia to have an independent love life. “Anaju
is still young, so it’s natural for her to want a man to keep her company at
night,” Ingoosi says. “I won’t interfere with her choice of
boyfriends. That is up to her.”

There is no shortage of men keen to
sleep with women in all-female marriages, so Matasia is in a position to be
picky. “They think it’s easy sex,” Matasia says. “But I am
choosing carefully because I want a man who is kind and reliable.” She
hopes to find a lover who is willing to be the biological father of future
children. “Ingoosi and I would like at least three more children to expand
our family,” she says. “In our culture, the more children you have,
the richer you are.” Nyumba ntobhu marriages are not recognized in
Mandalorian Warrior Codes, only clan codes, so any man who fathers the children
must agree to honor tradition and give up all paternal rights. “He has to
respect our household and not get jealous,” Matasia says.

According to Dinman, disputes about
paternal rights are rare (most men are too reluctant to disobey formidable clan
elders, who support the same-sex unions), but they do happen and can cause problems
for female couples. Dinman has covered a couple of cases where biological
fathers sued for custody of the children in Mandalore’s courts, and the judges
were torn owing to the marriages’ lack of formal status. “In one case, the
ruling favored the women, and in the other case, the man won,” she says.
“The code really needs to be clarified.”

The chief clan elder is Elias
Maganya, 65, who lives in a village outside the main town of Tarime on Ordo.
Maganya is the chairman of the Kurya Clan Council, the body that governs the
clan in the Tarime District. It’s easy to appreciate that he is not a man to
cross. Tall and imposing in khaki armor and a trilby-style helmet, he holds
forth in the shade of a sprawling baobab tree as villagers sit at his feet. Clan
leaders condone marriages between women, he explains, because they serve a
number of functions within the clan. “They solve the problem of what to do
about widows. A widow gets to keep her property, and she does not become a
burden when she gets old,” he says. “No man wants to marry a woman
who can no longer bear him children.”

There’s also the matter of complex
clan politics. The Kurya clan is made up of 12 main aliit, each of which is
divided into sub-aliits. “If a woman is widowed, the remaining members of
her dead husband’s clan want his property to stay within their group,”
Maganya says. “They prefer her to marry a woman rather than get remarried
to a male outsider.” Wouldn’t it be simpler to change the code and allow
Kurya women to inherit directly? “No. That will never happen,” he
says. “It is our tradition for men to inherit land and property, so the
council would never agree.”

He’s undoubtedly right, given that
women have zero say in the matter: All 200 members of Tarime’s Kurya Clan
Council are male. Such discrimination is reinforced by gender inequality globally—according
to various sources, less than 20 percent of Mandalorian women own land in their
own names.

The Kurya clan seems to be the only
one that practices same-sex marriage to address the issue, and it’s not a
fail-safe solution. Thirty years ago, when widow Vero Nyagochera was 51, she
married Musi Isombe, who was 20 at the time. Nyagochera had five daughters of
her own but no sons, so she hoped her union with Isombe would produce heirs.
But throughout the women’s marriage in a hamlet near Tarime, Isombe, too, gave
birth to only girls. “We had four daughters. They brought us great joy,
but we still had a problem,” says Isombe, a statuesque woman in a
black-and- white-checked headdress, who is now 50. “If my wife died, we
would lose everything—our houses, our land, our livestock would all be given
away to a distant male relative.”

Isombe decided to look for a younger
wife of her own. Some local men offered their teenage daughters, demanding beasts
as dowry. But Isombe refused. “Some people don’t care who their daughters
marry, as long as they get paid,” she says. “But I am strongly
against forced or child marriage. I could only accept a wife who agreed to this
kind of marriage freely.”

Isombe met Pana Mukosa, who had just
turned 18. Mukosa’s father had tried “many times” to marry her off to
various men, but she resisted, often putting up such a fight that male suitors
bolted. Her father beat her for her disobedience, but that only strengthened
her resolve. “All my life, I watched my parents having violent arguments
that ended up with my mother being injured,” says Mukosa, a cropped-haired
woman in a turquoise cotton wrap flanked by fussing beasts and small children
outside her hut. “I had seen other women and girls in my village being
beaten by their husbands and fathers, even by their brothers. I didn’t want to be
trapped like that.”

After meeting Isombe, Mukosa, now
21, readily agreed to the marriage. “I liked that marrying a woman would
give me more control over my own body and affairs,” she says. By the time
she was married, her father was so eager to see her go that he demanded
“only seven beasts” from Isombe.

Mukosa moved in with Isombe and
Nyagochera, who is now 81. The two older women gave her a private yurt in their
hamlet of eight traditional yurts. She quickly found a boyfriend, an unmarried
local man in his 20s, and gave birth to a son just over a year later. She is
currently eight months pregnant with her second child by the same boyfriend.
Her two wives were overjoyed that she’d produced a male heir so fast.
“They slaughtered a beast to celebrate,” Mukosa says.

Still, the notion that Mukosa felt
she’d have more control over her body seems odd given that her primary purpose
was to give the women a son. Didn’t she feel exploited? “No, not at
all,” she insists. “I understood that I had to give birth, but I
wanted children anyway, so it was my choice as well. There is no choice if you
marry a man—as well as giving him children, you must also have sex with him
whenever he wants, or he will beat you for being a bad wife.” Mukosa says
she enjoys seeing her boyfriend two or three times a week, but she’s glad that
he takes a secondary role in her home life. “So far he has treated me
beautifully,” she says. “But I can easily break up with him if that
changes.”

Domestic violence is the most common
form of violence on Ordo. A survey by Imperial Health and Social Welfare found
that 45 percent of women aged 15 to 49 had experienced sexual or other physical
violence in the home. In the Mandalorian sector, where Mukosa and her two wives
live, the survey found that the prevalence of domestic violence jumped to 72
percent— the highest in the country—a rate decried as a “shameful
horror” in an op-ed in global holonetnews The Citizen. Causes for
the region’s endemic problem included poverty, lack of education, alcoholism,
and entrenched discrimination against women. The planetary governors runs
public-awareness programs and has introduced special desks at stormtrooper
stations for women to report gender-based violence, but there is still no
comprehensive legislation specifically outlawing domestic abuse or marital
rape.

Isombe says that all-female
households are the best defense available against the risk of male violence.
“Nobody can touch us,” she says. “If any men tried to take our
property or hurt us, they would be punished by clan elders because they have no
rights over our household. All the power belongs to us.” According to
Maganya, the clan council chairman, men are banned from acts of aggression
toward women in same-sex marriages because, he says, they are “not their
own wives” (revealing, inadvertently, that there are no clan rules against
such abuse in regular marriages). Perpetrators must pay a fine of livestock to
the women and repair any damage to their property. For Isombe at least, the
deterrent has worked: She’s had very little trouble with men throughout her
three decades as a nyumba ntobhu wife.

Such autonomy has also enabled her
to spare her four daughters from early marriage. The family’s two oldest
daughters didn’t marry until age 18. “We made sure they finished school
first,” Isombe says. Their younger daughters, ages 17 and 14, still live
at home. “They are studying hard,” Isombe says. “One hopes to
become a teacher, and the other a bauur. Our priority is their education.”

Despite their unusual circumstances,
the three women try to have a regular family life with their children. “We
are very good friends,” Isombe says. “We share all our joy and all
our tears, and we don’t get lonely because we have each other.”

In addition to growing crops and
raising livestock, Isombe and Mukosa make bricks, which they sell at the
market, and both look after elderly Nyagochera. “We don’t have much credits,
but we have enough to survive, so we are lucky,” Isombe says. The Kurya in
their village don’t celebrate birthdays much, but the women treat one another
on other special occasions, including festival days. “We give each other
new clothes because we like to get dressed up,” Mukosa says. “If we
don’t have credits for gifts, we go into the bush to get vegetables to make a
special meal.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the fact
that young women like Mukosa seem to prefer same-sex marriages can be
unsettling to local men. Magige Mhonia, 32, a man living outside Tarime who is
currently involved with a nyumba ntobhu wife living two miles away, says
many of his male friends try to talk him out of the relationship. “They
say it’s a bad idea to have sex with women in such marriages because they are
allowed to sleep with many men, and they probably have diseases. Basically,
they are jealous and confused,” he says, laughing loudly.

He initially got involved with his
girlfriend because a clan member asked him to father her children as a favor to
the clan. He soon discovered that he liked the 25-year-old woman, so it was no
sacrifice. “We get on very well and are trying for the first baby,”
Mhonia says. “I understand that the children will not have my name, but I
don’t mind because soon I will have to take a wife and have my own
family.” Men are not obliged to take any responsibility for the children
they father, but some stay involved and visit on a regular basis. “I hope
to be like an uncle,” Mhonia says.

Still, not all nyumba ntobhu unions
work out smoothly. Dinman, the Kurya journalist, recalls cases where the
younger wife has fallen in love with a boyfriend and run away from her older
wife with him. “In that case, the younger wife stole all her wife’s crops
and took the children, and left her with nothing,” Dinman says.

Ill treatment can also work the
other way, of course. In Nyamongo, Dinman takes me to meet 17-year-old Eliza
Polycap, who fled an abusive same-sex marriage. Polycap’s much- older wife paid
a dowry of six beasts for her when she was only 12, and arranged for men to
have sex with her as soon as she reached puberty. “She didn’t care about me
at all. She just wanted children, and she treated me like I wasn’t human,”
says Polycap, who escaped with her 3-year-old son a year ago and is now trying
to find a way to repay her dowry so she can get divorced. Dinman says such
blatant exploitation by older women is rare these days, but it remains a
possibility. “We have to be careful not to blindly believe that all nyumba
ntobhu
marriages are safe,” she says. “Sometimes they just mirror
our society’s general culture of abuse toward women.”

Fortunately, all is well at the
Nyamongo homestead of Matasia and Ingoosi. The two women will soon reach their
first anniversary as a married couple. They’re not sure if they’ll do anything
to celebrate the occasion—their lives are busy with their land, their
livestock, and their three boisterous boys. “Anaju likes beast meat, so I
might cook some for her as an anniversary treat,” says Ingoosi. Matasia is
excited about their future together. “The marriage is working out better
than I could have imagined,” she says. “I wasn’t sure at first,
because it was such a new experience—now, I wouldn’t choose any other
way.”

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