Isimba, where randy boys impregnate teenage girls in Western Kenya

A young Kenyan mother holds her baby bump. PHOTO/Donwilson Odhiambo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Cases of teenage pregnancies have been on the rise in Kenya but less has been said about where exactly the sexual activities happen.

After a series of interviews involving teenagers of both genders, elders and academicians, we can now reveal exactly where the boys and girls usually meet to mess up their lives.

Simba or Isimba are Luo and Luhya words respectively, for the boys’ house within their parents’ compound.

Initially, they were tiny, grass-thatched and mud-walled houses but today, most of them are roofed with iron sheets.  Some are permanent houses.

Going by the narrations by the characters herein, these houses have cultural importance but have also been, for a very long time, breeding grounds.

Whereas teenagers sneak into them for such acts, elders have subtly admitted that they were built to serve this purpose, among others.

Sexually productive

James (not his real name) is a 17-year-old form 4 student of Agoro Sare Mixed Secondary School in Homa Bay County. He hails from Rawinji, in the outskirts of Oyugis town.

He is currently a father of a girl aged one. The boy admits that the act happened in his elder brother’s Simba.

Akinyi (16), the child’s mother and cousin to James, confirmed that they met repeatedly in the said house before her tummy began to swell.

“My elder brother works in Kisumu. I sleep in (and take care of) his house (Simba) whenever he is away,” said James.

He added that he has had sexual encounters with three more girls in his brother’s bed where Akinyi conceived.

According to James, his male peers also send constant requests to him for a chance to sleep with their girlfriends in the Simba.

“I don’t deny them the house because I know, as under 18’s, they cannot do it in a guest room.”

James elucidated that he often sneaks girls into his brother’s simba at the weekends when most people are in church or during the night when most watchful eyes are inattentive; an act better known in Luoland as “ong’ora”.

Brazenly and oblivious of the risks involved, yet insensitive to the hard times the baby is undergoing at his aunt’s place, the boy boasts that the baby is enough proof that he is “sexually productive” (can reproduce).

A Luo elder, who asked for anonymity, says that even though many will deny it, parents are fully aware that “other people’s daughters’ virginity is being broken and unplanned pregnancies conceived within their compounds.”

“Simba en od temruok,” (Simba is a house where trials are done) he claimed, reiterating that no woman married in Simba can ever claim that the house is hers.

He added that “It is only a house in an independent homestead that a woman can claim to be hers. Simba is where trials – as to whether a woman can live with the husband – are done. Different men can do it there or the same man with different women.”

The trials, he said, are not without sexual activities even as the woman awaits her dowry payment to become an official wife.

Parents are not supposed to inspect what goes on in Isimba.

In the case of Western Kenya, the chairperson of the Western Region Elders Council, Philip Masinde, 87, says that any boy who is mature enough is supposed to sleep in his parents’ or grandparents’ house no more.

“They have to construct Isimba next to the gate in their father’s compound, beginning with the eldest son.

It is in the Isimba where the boy gets to meet and entertain his (circumcised) friends, ‘men’ and girls alike,” Masinde noted.

According to Masinde, their tradition is that parents are not supposed to inspect what goes on in Isimba because the circumcised boy is considered a mature man who can make wise decisions.

In Western Kenya, a mature boy’s age could be somewhere between 10 and 15 years, after the initiation of age sets. In Kenya the 10-15 age bracket has school going children, majority in primary school.

Western Kenya has many sub-tribes, most of which still attach a lot of value to the traditional circumcision of boys.

Elder Masinde points out that traditionally, girls in their community received wise counsel from grandmothers who taught them on how to self-control when they are with male peers and keep their virginity for the wedding night.

Isimba turned into brothels

On his part, the chairperson of a faction of the Luo Council of Elders Nyandiko Ongadi echoes the sentiments of Masinde, saying that Simba serves a similar purpose for Luos.

“Simba was not built for boys and girls to engage in sex. It was built by the eldest son in a homestead after they had become mature enough.”

“The house would provide a place for him and his brothers to sleep in until such a time when he gets married,” he explained.

Elder Ongadi observes that, “Mature boys would welcome girls from clans that the ‘law’ allowed them to marry from, to their fathers’ homestead, make merry and sleep with them.”

However, he stresses, “sexual activity was prohibited.”

Mr Ongadi says that Simba, among the Luo, is a house with great cultural significance.

However, he confirms that the tragedy is the fact that boys and girls have turned them into brothels.

“Sex among boys and girls is a thing of today. The society has lost its morals. These days randy boys and girls engage in sex even with their relatives. It is sad that these incidences occur mostly in Simba. I’ve seen and I know of this trend, ” he adds.

He continued, giving credence to the foregoing: “Simba en public”, figuratively translating to Simba being a house for any boy to sleep with any girl.

“It is unfortunate that with an increase in incidences of sexual activities among teenagers, Simba has become a public place for the rural boys and girls.”

Ker Nyandiko confirms that no girl married in Simba would claim that the house was hers until such a time when they had given birth to one or two children and the father-in-law showed them a piece of land outside his homestead for them to construct their matrimonial home.

Nyandiko points out that today’s rampant sex among teenagers, is happening because of Western Civilization, an approach which has ensured virginity of the girl is not treasured at marriage time and government’s prohibitions on disciplining children.

To curb the ongoing trend, Mr Ongadi, a parent, insists that parents should arrange alternative houses or rooms for their adolescent children to sleep in and ensure tight supervision of such houses.

“Parents who sleep behind curtains in tiny rooms, especially in towns, are giving their children the urge for sex because the children are always eavesdropping and peeping on their parents while on the act,” Ker Nyandiko lamented.

School mates and teachers as contributers

Prof Francis Owino Rew, who has researched in the area of Luo culture, is also awake to the contribution of Simba to teenage sex and unplanned pregnancies.

However, he says that a lot more factors contribute to this unfortunate state of affairs.

“To peg early pregnancies to Simba alone would be missing all the causes. In most cases, Simba would come after ‘Siwindhe’.

Siwindhe, in Luo, involved an elderly grandmother who would teach young girls’ decorum. Stories on how to remain upright and avoid pregnancy were at the center of the teachings.

Prof Rew observes that the introduction of teenagers to condoms and other family planning pills has only emboldened them; thus, they proceed to have sex with no second thought, just like their elders.

“Viewing of pornographic content on smartphones, video shows and discotheques is also contributing to early sex and pregnancies. It is at the discos where girls get involved in multiple sexual activities within a short period and may fail to know even the contributor of the pregnancy,” says Rew.

“Yes, incidences happen in Simba but not with Siwindhe. Let us not blame Simba squarely for this vice.

School mates and teachers are major causes, and technology has emboldened the girls and boys,” Prof Rew said, defending Simba’s cultural significance.

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Mr. Odanga is a Kenyan multimedia journalist, with a strong bias for writing.


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