Friday, November 8, 2013, 00:01 by Mark Sammut, Valletta
Ranier Fsadni’s teasingly-named We Are All Gay Now (October 31) was about legal recognition of quasi-matrimonial arrangements between homosexuals of the same sex.
Dr Fsadni wrote that “woman to woman marriage [was allowed] among the Nuer of the Sudan in the 1930s”.
If one does some research, one finds that, though same-sex, the Nuer’s was not homosexual marriage.
According to http://anthro.palomar.edu/marriage/marriage_4.htm, in the “cattle herding Nuer tribe of southern Sudan, a woman who is unable to have children is sometimes married as a ‘husband’ to another woman who then is impregnated by a secret boyfriend. The barren woman becomes the socially recognised father and thereby adds members to her father’s patrilineal kin group.”
According to Anthropology And The Human Condition (wikifoundry.com “Women in Nuer culture can marry each other, with one being the ‘father’ of the children of the ‘wife’. The ‘father’ is referred to the ‘Pater’. A third person, the ‘genitor’, is required to impregnate the wife. He could be a friend, neighbour or kinsman of the Pater, and would help around in the home for tasks which are deemed unfit for women as well.
“For the marriage to become official, the ‘Pater’ has to pay a bride wealth to the wife, as would happen if a man were to marry a woman.
“Additionally, the Pater would also receive bride wealth if any of her daughters were to marry. While this was not uncommon, the underlying motivation is still to carry on the family name. A woman who marries as a ‘Pater’ is usually barren, and for this reason is regarded like a man.
“In addition, because a barren woman usually practices as a magician or diviner, she acquires more cattle and hence is rich and could have several wives (Evans-Pritchard, 1951).’”
This is not homosexual marriage but an unusual form of heterosexual marriage. The two women marry not because they are lesbians but because one of them – the ‘legal father’ – is barren.
One wonders whether the Sudanese Nuer still allow woman-to-woman marriages as they did in the 1930s.
One also wonders whether it is known how the children were affected by having two women as socially-recognised father and mother.
Would the children regard the ‘genitor’ as their real (as opposed to socially-recognised) father?
Would the ‘wife’ have more children from the same genitor or from different genitors?
Although the children belonged to the barren woman’s father’s patrilineal kin group, the genitor (who could be a neighbour, not necessarily a kinsman) apparently had some form of obligation toward the family (performing ‘tasks which are deemed unfit for women’). Did he also have any rights on the children?