An Anglican bishop in west Kenya has called for women belonging to his church to reject joter, a traditional local practice by which widows become the spouse of another member of their husband's family.Joter—also known as wife inheritance—is traditional among the Luo people of Nyanza Province of western Kenya. The Luo people are often polygamous, and several widows may be inherited by a single family member. Another element of the tradition is the practice of holding a "cleansing" ritual in which the widow has sex with an outsider before being given to her brother-in-law or other family member. At a recent local church service, Bishop Joseph Wasonga, of Maseno West, Nyanza Province, called for an end to these practices. He said that at their husband's funeral, widows should publicly declare their refusal to accept joter. The bishop said that Christian widows should declare their opposition to joter "and tell the truth about their post-funeral intentions instead of praising the Lord at the burial and going to the inheritor at night."One reason for the bishop's concern is the high rates of HIV infection in Nyanza, especially in towns and fishing villages around Lake Victoria. He told ENI that if widows publicly rejected "outdated and dangerous cultural practices, joter would die a natural death." Such action had been taken "during the revival days of Christianity in Kenya in the 40s to the 60s of the last century when Christian widows would freely state they would be remarried formally in church or remain widows."Bishop Wasonga told ENI that although in recent times sexual relationships between widows and their brothers-in-law or other relatives had become the norm, this had not been the case in the more distant past. "In the olden times the practice of wife inheritance was symbolic and fundamentally for the care of the widow and her children," he said. "The man then assumed the role of father to the children and performed important tasks like giving daughters away in marriage."The cleansing ritual involving the widow sleeping with another man was never part of the old practice. This ritual cleansing is a recent adaptation."Asked if the Anglican Church required couples to undertake an HIV test before being married, Bishop Wasonga said that they were "strongly encouraged to do so during pre-wedding counseling."Copyright © ENI 2000

Related Elsewhere

The Washington Post ran a great story in 1997 on how the tradition of wife inheritance spurred a rise in African AIDS cases. The Associated Press and BBC have similar stories. Click here for a map of Kenya.Read direct daily news from Kenya.Previous Christianity Today stories about Kenya include:Debt Cancellation a Question of 'Justice', Kenya's Anglican Archbishop Tells Japan | Tokyo skeptical toward Jubilee 2000 message. (April 19, 2000) Have We Become Too Busy With Death? | As 4,900 people die each day from AIDS, African Christians are faced with the question. (Feb. 4, 2000) Southeastern Seminary student beaten, robbed in Kenya | Family says not attacked because of Christianity, but it's the reason they're going back. (Jan. 10, 2000) Cursed by Superficiality | Kenyans are coming to knowledge of the Bible, but Christianity is not transforming their lives. (Nov. 16, 1998)