The Need for Wives and the Hunger for Children: Marriage, Gender and Livelihood among the Kuria of Tanzania

Mhando, Nandera. 2011. The Need for Wives and the Hunger for Children: Marriage, Gender and Livelihood among the Kuria of Tanzania. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This study focuses on what is on the surface a deeply patriarchal society, the Kuria of Tanzania. Although little agency is overtly ascribed to women, the study demonstrates how some women and disadvantaged men manage to overcome the constraints in their lives either by utilising the existing structures of marriage to their advantage or else by engaging in entrepreneurial activities, alone or with others, to improve their economic situations. It shows how the various forms of marriage help individuals to achieve full personhood in Kuria terms. The study explains why people wish to have many children and how they are able to overcome infertility, and even death, to increase the number of their descendants.

Taking a historical perspective, the study is positioned against the backdrop of Kuria marriages. It looks at the ways these unions are tied into and shaped by wider social structures, including the laws and ideologies of Christianity, Islam, and the state in its various forms. The study concentrates more on local meanings than on legal or political rules. Despite far reaching politico-economic, religious and cultural changes, the Kuria have continued to tenaciously embrace their main ideas about marriage and fertility in relation to personhood. This is seen as a form of resistance, best understood in terms of the structures of agnatic descent and processes of individual agency, reflected in status and access to rights and resources in the community. Moreover, new stimuli in the local economy, like mining, have created market for local produce and services enabling households, individuals and groups to have various income-generation activities. The study argues that gender is flexible; it can be negotiated and circumvented by pragmatic changes in roles and status, rendering gendered identities a highly fluid process. Thus sonless or childless, living or non-living, and wealthy women can have daughters-in-law (female wives), and men who are dead, disabled, impotent or sterile, and mad can have children. Gender is also, however, in other senses circumscribed and fixed, because only women can bear children.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


tanzania and kuria, gender and kinship, marriage and reproduction, personhood and agency, livelihoods, income diversification

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Date Deposited:

17 Feb 2012 15:47

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 08:27


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