In the Bible — and most religious books — the story of Adam and Eve isn’t just the creation story about the origin of the universe, but a testament that both man and woman must live together as one. (Hello, mom and dad).
According to the book of Genesis, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Simple enough? We’re not giving a moral lesson about marriage, but how on Earth in the name of love, would women choose to thrive in a society without any males. Dear friends, welcome to Umoja — the Kenyan village where there are no men, and only women are allowed to thrive. Like seriously!
Related media: The Land of No Men: Inside Kenya’s Women-Only Village
Welcome To Umoja
The village of Umoja — actually known as Umoja Uaso — is a matriarchal (female-dominated) rural community located near the Uaso Nyiro River, and the town of Archers Post in the Samburu County in northern Kenya across the Rift Valley, some 380 kilometers (240 miles) away from the capital Nairobi.
The village is secluded in the grasslands of Samburu, typically made of thorny fencing, and huts, with locals mostly herders. It’s a typical Samburu village adorned with arts and crafts of Samburu tradition — colorful patterned dresses, and colorfully wrapped beads, known as the kanga.
The village was founded in the 1990s by Rebecca Lolosoli, together with a group of 14 other women who were victims of domestic violence abuse. Lolosoli was once beaten by a group of men when she came up with the idea of an all-female community. This act was meant to teach her a lesson for daring to speak to women about their rights. This is typical in Samburu culture and other tribes of Kenya, like the Maasai. They speak a similar related language and have identical cultural attributes.
Their communities are typically patriarchal (male-dominated), consisting of a group of 10 family members, and are semi-nomadic herders. In communal meetings, men sit in an inner circle to discuss important village issues, whereas the women sit around, and are only occasionally allowed to express their opinions.
“I am told by a number of the women in Umoja that Lolosoli has faced repeated threats and attacks from local men since setting up the village,” writes Julie Bindel, a journalist who visited Umoja, in an article for The Guardian, “but she is undeterred. … and she sounded proud of all that she and the other women had achieved … since the village’s foundation.”
And as a result, Umoja became a refuge for women and girls who suffered domestic violence like rape, female genital mutilation (FGM), childhood marriage, widowhood rites, and several outdated cultural practices. The community rapidly grew from a hideout into a thriving matriarchal society where the women claim they can now trade and raise their children and live without fear of male violence and discrimination.
Living Without Men
The village is relatively small, consisting of roughly 40 to 50 women who cater to nearly 200 children. Although most of them are extremely frugal, however, they earn a living by petty trading like making jewelry, mats, beads, weaving, and basketry as a source of income. The leaders of the village run a campsite about a kilometer away where safari tourists lodge, with many of them visiting Umoja. The women often trade these artifacts to them at a modest fee to make earns meet.
“I have learned to do things here that women are normally forbidden to do,” says a middle-aged woman and mother of five, named Nagusi. “I am allowed to make my own money, and when a tourist buys some of my beads, I am so proud.”
The Umoja community discourages outdated cultural values relating to early marriages. According to Samburuculture, girls receive their first ornate jewelry from their father in a ceremony known as beading. The father then initiates a temporary marriage for her daughter with any suitor ready to pay the bride price, usually the cost of the beads. The marriage is temporary, therefore pregnancy is forbidden, but if it does happen, then she will be forced to abort it, which is carried out by elderly women.
“If a girl is married at an early age, that girl will not be a competent parent. Giving birth they face a lot of challenges: they rupture, they bleed because they are young,” says Milka, the head of the local school at Umojafor children from surrounding villages. “Even performing their duties, their chores, it is hard for them. They are thrown into taking care of animals.”
Where Art Thou Mates?
We write about these women having a community without men, but you wonder if they have children? How on Earth in Umoja? Short answer: they sought after men. Ta-da!
“It’s funny because you don’t see men around here but you see small children, which means women go get men outside,” says Lotukoi, the only man Julie Bindel claims to have met in Umoja. “Children, firewood, and cooking are women’s business, and men look after the animals,” he told Bindel earlier.
Lotukoi arrives in the village every day to tend to the herds before sunrise. There’s even a suspicion that men from a nearby village have three to four wives in Umoja.
“The majority of men have three to four wives in this village,” says Samuel, the village elder in the next village. “This is a village of women who live alone, who are not married, some of them are rape victims, some are child marriage cases. They think they are living without men, but that is not possible… many of them end up with babies,” he continues, “because they meet men in the towns and get seduced by them, and men come here in the nights and go into their huts. Nobody else sees them.”
Could you believe that one woman at Umoja is having five children with five different fathers?
“It is not good to be unmarried and have children in our culture,” she told Bindel as she was washing her baby clothes. “But it is worse not to have any. Without children we are nothing.”
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Oct 25, 2021.