My only mistake was settling for men who were not rich, but they are loving.
They say that three is a crowd, but for 35-year-old Rael Mukeku, it is a happy marriage—to two husbands. The mother of 11 is married to two men, both of whom are aware and happy with the arrangement.
Dumb-struck villagers, however, can do no more than look askance at this strange union and mind their own business.
Rael lives in a grass-thatched, mud-and-wattle hut, the only house occupying a small rocky compound behind Kathekakai Market on the fringes of the Chyulu Hills National Park in Makueni County.
She has spent much of the three decades-and-a-half of her life in marriage, something she does not shy away from revealing. She first got married at the age of 10.
“I married my first husband in 1992 and we were blessed with our first child the following year. I have had 10 other children since then,” Ms Mukeku told the Nation at her home, slowly opening up on how she ended up leading a lifestyle frowned upon among the Kamba and in most Kenyan societies.
CRYING FOR FOOD
Juggling between rocking an infant and trying to appease three other children donning threadbare clothing, who have been crying for food, she recalls her background. She schooled up to Standard Two at a public school, worked as a maid at a neighbour’s home, and got married in the same village.
“The second husband came when I had seven children already. He didn’t like taking care of the children unless some of them were his and this is how we ended up getting more children,” she reveals.
She is quick to admit that she has quit binge drinking, khat chewing and snuff taking, habits, she says, she had picked up early in life from the bad company she kept and which she had carried along with her until early in August when she dropped them on a doctor's orders.
She, however, does not regret marrying the two men, who work as casual labourers, and giving birth to many children.
“My only mistake is that I settled on men who are not rich, but this does not worry me much because they are caring and loving,” she chuckles, recalling a recent incident in which her husbands joined forces to care for her during an illness.
SOLD ALL GOATS
“One sold all his three goats and a kid to clear the hospital bill, while the other provided the money we needed for the day to day upkeep,” she says.
It was her physical needs that encouraged her to get another husband to fulfil them since the first husband, Muema Nguu, who is 50, and sickly, wasn't able to. She had confided in her mother about the problem before taking in the second man. Muema also sanctioned the idea but asked to meet his would-be co-husband first as a condition.
“It got to a point where he advised me to identify one man and officially introduce him,” she says, echoing Mr Nguu’s account of the events leading to the compound marriage.
"It was a difficult decision. It was preceded by a difficult period in which I had become weak after suffering a long illness,” says Muema, while herding his employer’s cattle in the next village.
Despite a deal they had struck, which was witnessed by a local elder and one of their adult sons, Mr Nguu at first struggled to come to terms with the relationship.
He says: “Upon realising that he had impregnated her I got mad and warned that such should not be repeated”.
Years later and three other pregnancies down the line, he has embraced his co-husband with whom he has a lot in common.
The two were orphaned at infancy and worked as casual labourers at the homes of their neighbours in their childhood after dropping out of school for lack of fees.
“My relatives are not happy with this arrangement, but every time they complain I remind them that they have refused to help me raise my children,” says Mr Nguu, regretting that his children have not got a proper education.
Mr Nguu says that some of his adult children are yet to come to terms with the compound marriage, something that has been worrying the extended family.
“Our main worry has always been that she has been identifying them with their different fathers.
“We have always advised that she treats them equally and that she stops telling them that they belong to this or that husband,” says Mr Timothy Mutua, a neighbour and distant relative.
“His children call me ‘Dad’. When he is unable to clear school fees, I get him sorted out. He reciprocates when I am in a financial mess and he is better off,” says Mr Nguu’s co-husband, Mutuku Muia, 45, who works as a farm labourer.
Unlike Mr Muia, who spends all his nights at home, Mr Nguu comes home at most twice in a month.
Ms Mukeku says that whenever her husbands happen to be at home at the same time “they do not fight over anything because they agreed to be in this relationship”.