By OUMA WANZALA IN SUMMARY Mr Terrus Onamu has been married for 29 years, or so he thought. He was hit by a shocker when his wife died and he was told he could not bury her because their union was not legal.
By OUMA WANZALA
Mr Terrus Onamu has been married for 29 years, or so he thought. He was hit by a shocker when his wife died and he was told he could not bury her because their union was not legal.
The 60-year-old man from Virombe village, Vihiga District, is yet to come to terms with the ruling that has brought pain and anguish.
Mr Gerishom Magana, who claims to be the legal husband of the woman, was allowed by the court to bury her.
And two weeks ago the body of Ms Jane Mideva Amusavi, 56, was ferried from Vihiga district hospital mortuary where it had stayed for more than three months to Bware in South Nyanza, hundreds of kilometres away, for burial.
Trouble started for Mr Onamu when he received summons from the Vihiga district magistrate’s court last November 6.
“I was preparing to bury my wife, who had passed away on November 3, when I was approached by unknown people in Vihiga town. They gave me court summons. I did not understand what the summons was all about since I was still in shock after losing a loving and caring wife,” he added.
Vihiga senior resident magistrate Lucas Onyina issued a permanent injunction restraining Mr Onamu from burying Ms Amusavi within the district.
The magistrate ruled that Mr Magana take the body for burial at his rural home at Bware village in South Nyanza. The magistrate dismissed claims by Mr Onamu that he was married to the woman, saying no proof had been provided.
Mr Onyina ruled that Mr Magana was married to the deceased under Maragoli customary law and had paid dowry (bukhwi). Mr Onamu was told he could pursue an appeal but that the burial would go ahead. The body would be exhumed if his appeal succeeded, he was told.
Mr Magana said in an affidavit that the deceased was his lawfully wedded wife and that despite her cohabitation with Mr Onamu, there was no valid marriage between the two.
He married the woman in 1972 and they had three children. He said the woman disappeared in 1980 without trace.
On his part, Mr Onamu insists that when he met the woman in 1981, she never told him she was once married.
“We have stayed together peacefully and were blessed with seven children and at no time did she ever tell me that she was once married,” he said.
“Even her parents, who migrated to Migori, used to visit our family at Virombe village together with her siblings,” he explained adding that he paid five cows and Sh4,000 as dowry for the woman.
“When her mother was sick in January 2005, I was approached by my brother-in-law who asked me to support them and I decided to pay the dowry. We had agreed that I pay Sh20,000 and 10 cows,” Mr Onamu said.
They got their first born twin daughters in 1984 and their last born is now in Form Four.
“I only learnt that she had a daughter after the girl visited us to inform her that her grandchild had passed on. The mother was away and I attended the burial on her behalf,” he explained.
Caroline Onamu, 26, a daughter of Mr Onamu, narrated how hard it has been for them since the legal battle started.
“It would have been our wish to bury our mother,” she said. She admitted that her mother had confided in her that she had a daughter called Kibidi from a previous relationship.
Ms Onamu said she had never heard of the other two children and did not know that her mother was once married.
She described her mother as hard working, caring, and God fearing.
Eric Mwashagi, 23 , too is disappointed with the court ruling and hopes the family will be allowed to bury their mother even if the legal battle takes years.
“I do not know those who are claiming my mother’s body and it’s sad that they want her when she is dead,” Mr Mwashagi lamented.
We caught up with Mr Magana at the Vihiga district mortuary as he made arrangements for the burial two weeks ago. He declined to speak to us and referred us to his lawyer, Mr A.B.L. Mushiega, who kept us waiting for hours but did not turn up.
Mr Onamu has moved to the High Court to appeal against the ruling, arguing that the magistrate erred in law and fact by failing to establish that there was no valid marriage between Mr Magana and Ms Amusavi.
He says the magistrate failed to take into account the 30 years Ms Amusavi and Mr Magana did not stay together during which the man made no effort to know the whereabouts of the woman.
Villagers are yet to come to terms with the ruling and are asking how Mr Onamu could lose the case despite the fact that he stayed with the woman all those years.
“I know her as the wife Mr Onamu. I have no doubt about it,” Mr James Misoga said.