Polygamy is an age-old practice that involves a man marrying several wives. It is an aspect of culture that has been part of numerous societies and communities for centuries. Famous polygamists include Fela Kuti, the legendary Nigerian musician who had twenty-seven wives. Polygamy is an issue of heated contention as marriage is no walk in the park. Polygamy is still practiced today by several communities and has been increasingly controversial, especially when coupled with practices such as wife inheritance.
Polygamy in Traditional African Society
Traditional African society allowed polygamy as it became seen as a way for men of means to ensure that they leave a legacy. In the twentieth century, the more the children one had, the more respected they were. Children were seen and appreciated as a blessing. Polygamy would ensure that the patriarch would have a lot of children. It was very beneficial as a lot of children would ensure that the household would have enough labor. Also, having many daughters at the time would attract a lot of endowments. It is not an insinuation that children became had for that sole purpose, but I would love to think of it as an added advantage.
Polygamy as a Way to Secure a Lot of Children in Traditional African Society
The case would be made that having numerous wives would ensure that the household would have a lot of children and several homesteads that could share work and resources. It meant that the family would have enough human resources to farm, hunt, or gather. It would also ensure continuity as the patriarch would be inherited by his sons, and polygamy would increase the chances of having one or several of them. Polygamy would also ensure that if anything happened to the man, then both or the several families would have each other to rely on and to fend for food with.
Modern Polygamy: Do Some Cultures Allow Polygamy?
In some cultures, polygamy is sacred and allowed. It became appreciated as a way to ensure all would-be brides have a chance at marriage. The first wife would be the matriarch and would teach the following wives how to run a homestead. It meant that if the matriarch passed on, the man and the children would have another maternal figure to care for them. With considerations also for the increased child mortality rates in traditional society and the lack of modern medical facilitation, polygamy would get seen as a way to ensure that the family would be significant and remain big.
Feminism vs Polygamy: Who's Right?
Today, polygamy is not as appreciated as it was then. The feminist theory has led to increased concerns about the negative aspects of polygamy. Polygamy can lead to a lot of intra-family wrangles. The co-wives are more likely to conflict and be mortal enemies. It means that the household will suffer a lot of unnecessary and unwarranted internal conflict. It could also lead the children to suffer. For instance, if one of the co-wives passes, their children are likely to be mistreated by their stepmother. Polygamy has today become seen as demeaning to women and women’s rights.
Is polygamy demeaning to women?
Polygamy and Religion: What Does Religion Say about Polygamy?
Religion can also allow or prohibit polygamy. Conventionally, Christianity rejects polygamy and pledges that every man should only have a single wife. On the other hand, Islam warrants polygamy, albeit with strict guidelines on how it is to get conducted or carried out. A considerable part of these guidelines pertains to chastity. The rejection by Christianity stems from convictions that there is only a single Eve for Adam. The practicability, however, in my personal view, is lacking.
What the Kenyan Law Says About Polygamy
Culturally speaking, a man with adequate means, in my view, can have more than one wife. It has now become accepted by law, and when coupled with the right facilitation, can turn out to be a good thing. Monogamy can be restrictive, and proponents of polygamy would say that modern monogamous society has become marred with numerous divorces and short-lived marriages.
Divorce: An Unintentional Form of Polygamy
From a different perspective, divorcing a partner and moving on to marry or be with another partner is an unintentional form of polygamy. As such, would it then be better to have numerous wives and to stay in that union for life or to marry a single woman and risk the chances of divorce? In my view, the former sounds more appealing.
The Practicability of Polygamy: Is Polygamy Possible and Practical?
Polygamy, as I have said, can backfire. Take an instance where a man has numerous children from numerous wives and passes on. There is an increased probability that there will be a lot of disagreements when it comes to succession and the inheritance of his properties. It would mean that he would pass on and leave his families fighting over possessions. It is magnified by the recent law to allow women to inherit their father’s property. It means that there will be increased conflict as both the male and female descendants will claim rights to the property.
Can Polygamy be Reasonably Successful?
Unique situations where polygamy can be reasonably successful are when the patriarch marries friends or sisters. Forgive me for being forward, but I don’t think co-wives who are literal sisters or best friends would conflict as much as co-wives who are strangers would. It is a rarity and would be quite the proposal for a man to make. It would also amount to paying double or triple dowry when a man chooses to have more than a single wife. Polygamy is not for the weak-hearted and in modern society is seen as having been passed by time.
Monogamy vs Polygamy: Which is Better?
As per the argument made earlier, monogamy can be worse off as compared to polygamy as it would mean fewer chances for enough or a large number of children. The loss of a parent in monogamy can leave the family worse off as compared to polygamy.
Monogamy and How It Curtails the Probability of a Male Heir
The probability of a male heir or heirs is also significantly reduced. There is also a lot of domestic work that one wife would get expected to perform. In this view, if the wife is a working woman, she would lack the ability to bear a good number of children and raise them while still pursuing her career. Some would also say that the children would also lack other children to play with. Imagine kids who are living in an apartment complex and are the only child.
My Take: Why Polygamy Makes Sense or Not?
My position on the matter is that polygamy is a matter of personal choice. It can be hard to pull off, very hard, but an individual with enough personal will and resources can have several wives. The intricacies of the practice may vary with different cultures and may also entail some controversial practices such as a wife or spouse inheritance.
As such, there should be laws to protect women against any form of discrimination, coercion, or distasteful cultural expectation and responsibilities. Protection should also include facilitation for the inheritance rights of a surviving spouse. Polygamy, in some cases, can be a way to protect, but it can also be a way to oppress.