Although he was not very well-known even in Kenya, Asentus Akuku shot to instant fame upon his death three years ago when it became known that he had married more than 100 wives and sired more than 200 children.
The man, popularly known as “Danger” — because of his good looks which women found irresistible, or so he claimed — was known to run his huge family quite successfully, earning himself many admirers. But now that he is no more, how is his vast family faring?
Early this month, DN2 visited the main home of the “ladies’ man” in Ndhiwa, about 300 kilometres from Nairobi, in search of answers.
The first paradox one comes across is that the road leading to “state house”, as Akuku used to refer to his Ndhiwa home, the headquarters of his “empire”, is in a bad state. And his grave, which lies outside this state house, is showing signs of rapid wear.
Before we begin the interview, we are made to go through a tradition established by Akuku, where journalists are harassed for money before the session begins.
As we go through the ritual, we realise that we might just be lucky because one of his sons, who is also the family spokesman, Reuben Akuku, 50, says it will be “more difficult” visiting the homestead in future once the family puts in place structures to govern visits by journalists and tourists.
The process also gives us time to recover from the bumpy ride to the Akukus’ main residence on the border of Homa Bay and Migori counties.
The formalities over, we begin by asking whether the family is still intact, given that it is now three years since the old man died. Reuben responds that none of the 22 recognised wives that Akuku left has left.
“Although five of the 22 have since died, neither my mother nor any of her co-wives has left the Akuku homestead,” he says.
Given the rifts that often emerge in big families following the death of the head, this is remarkable. So, we ask, what is the secret to their unity?
“You have to admire my father for his foresight,” says 57-year-old Josephat Okech, one of Akuku’s sons. “He knew that the main source of disputes is family property, so he grouped his families in clusters.”
As a result, the territory occupied by the Akukus is not centralised but divided into four. Apart from Ndhiwa, where Akuku was born, he also settled some members of his family in three other areas. That explains why his “empire” covers Homa Bay and Migori counties.
He had homesteads in Karungu Okero, Karungu Kogore, Rachuodho, and Kanyamwar, although the main residence was in the Rachuodho area, where his “state house” is located. The clusters are kilometres apart and, as a rule, a family in one cluster cannot lay claim to property in another cluster.
The second secret to the family’s cohesion is the regular meetings the Akukus hold. The last one was in August and the next one is scheduled for December 31.
“It is at these meetings that we iron out any differences. Every cluster has a chairman, who raises any complaints in the cluster before the committee,” Reuben explains.
The meetings, which used to be held all night when Akuku was alive, are nowadays held during the day at “state house”.
The third reason for the unity is that the family’s finances are centralised; the money collected from the rental businesses Akuku owned is placed in a family kitty, from which it is distributed according to the different households’ needs.
“We collect about Sh240,000 from the rental houses our father owned and place this money in the family account, which has three signatories. The funds are meant for school-going children and those who’ve lost their mothers,” Reuben explains.
Another usually explosive issue is land, so we ask whether there have been any disputes within the family. Area chief, Mrs Grace Oduta, says she has not heard of any.
“The only disputes that have been brought before me have to do with ownership of cattle. Some of the widows complained that they were not benefiting from the cattle they were taking care of because of the principle of communal ownership. But they sorted out the matter internally,” she says.
Reuben says there are plans to have every son’s portion of land registered in his name to avoid wrangles in future.
“One thing I can tell you for sure is that jaduong’ (the old man) left us enough land. We plan to bring a surveyor to demarcate the land and apportion it to each of the Akuku sons,” Josephat interjects.
The practice of wife inheritance is known to be common among the Luo, so we ask whether any of Akuku’s wives have been inherited.
Once again, the answer is “no”. Not even Justina Achieng’, the youngest wife, who was 32 when Akuku died in 2010. Why?
“Being inherited would mean being under the rule of another home and I’m not ready for that,” she says.
Josephat explains that most of his father’s wives were past their prime when Akuku died, then adds, “But if any of them feels she needs to satisfy her sexual desires, she is not restricted from seeking ‘assistance’. But it should be just that.”
So, with everything running smoothly after their father’s death, has any of them followed in their father’s footsteps by marrying many wives?
After a good laugh, Reuben says “Yes!” And they are many. But they have restricted themselves to three wives.
“Where do you get the money to provide for such a big family?” he asks. “Life is difficult nowadays.”
Remarkably, brand Akuku is still held in high regard in the area. Indeed, the Akuku sons we interacted with were not averse to being associated with “Danger”.
“They are a respectable family. I have never had a disciplinary case arising from the family,” says Mrs Oduta.
Despite the rosy picture, it is clear that Akuku’s wives sorely miss him. “He was very good at providing for us. He would even hire people to work on the farm for us. Nowadays, we just have to fend for ourselves,” says Caren Odira, wife number 40.
“Money for general expenses is a problem because of the process involved in getting money from the family kitty. Things were easier when he was around,” adds Kanel Ndiga, wife number 10.
“He was stronger than his children, a man who believed in hard work. But what I miss most is his authoritative voice,” says Cyprosa Omune, wife number eight.
The family plans to build a mausoleum, where several items used by Akuku, who was engaged in several businesses, including distributing sugar and trading in cattle, will be kept.
“Our plan is that his grave be encompassed in the mausoleum. Then we can place his gramophones, clothes, and other items there,” Reuben explains.
He was high up there in the world of polygamy
Although the Guinness Book of World Records does not have an entry for the top polygamist, Akuku could well claim that spot in modern history.
Among the names that pop up during an internet search for the world’s top polygamists is that of Ziona Chana, a 67-year-old Indian man who has 39 wives and 94 children. A report on examiner.com says that Chana lives in a four-storey house with his big family.
American Warren Jeffs is another man reported to have married many wives. A 2006 article by the Mail Online indicates that he had 80 wives and 250 children. Jeffs’ case is interesting in that he engaged in illegal marriages while serving as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Jeffs’ one-time follower, Winston Blackmore, also makes it to the records. He is said to have been excommunicated from Jeffs’ church in 2002. The National Geographic reports that in 2010, Blackmore had 24 wives and 121 children. Blackmore is the leader of a Canadian polygamist group.
There is also Nigerian Mohammed Bello Abubakar. The BBC reported in 2008 that Abubakar, then 84, had advised other men not to marry 86 wives like he had done. Abubakar, also a religious leader, had at least 170 children.
South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma also features among the top search engine results for “most polygamous man.” He has married six times and has an estimated 20 children