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NBB “AFROCULTURAL TITBITS” ON POLYGAMY, EDITION 2

August 1, 2022

SubTopic: WHY DID AFRICANS EMBRACE POLYGAMY? 

This is “No Bullshitting,” by Harry Agina, and it is the 6th edition of Udoakpuenyi’s “AfroCultural TitBits” Category on “No Bullshitting” Blog (NBB). Greetings, folks! We are on edition 2 of our series on “Polygamy In Africa.” In the last edition, our traditionalist, Udoakpuenyi, introduced us to polygamy, with a global overview. The intro aimed to dispel the common Western fallacy on polygamy, which portrays polygamy as an African ‘thing.’ Importantly also, Udoakpuenyi pointed at the fact that “polygamous ARRENGEMENTS” are more rampant than “polygamous HOMES.” Not to forget that Udoakpuenyi took polygamy all the way back to the biblical days of Abram, and the rest in that ancient era. And when we talk about “polygamous arrangements” and “polygamous homes,” the biblical King Solomon quickly jumps to mind; doesn’t he? The dude was a champion in both, with 300 wives and 700 concubines. Damn! That son of Adam and Eve truly loved sex, meeeeeeeeeen!!!

Hahahahaaa! Anyway, I have given you a recapped of some key points in Udoakpuenyi’s previous edition, on the origin and spread of polygamy. And we do have the link to that edition at the end of this piece. Meanwhile, let’s find out what Udoakpuenyi has in store for us today. I do know that it has to do with zeroing-in from the previous global overview, to polygamy in Africa, specifically. And, what better place is there to start, than, “Why did Africans embrace polygamy?” Boy, do I love it when a discourse is started with a thematic question, or what! Here we go:

AfroCultural TitBits on Polygamy In Africa: Edition 2:

Why Did Africans Embrace Polygamy? 

In the African tradition, Africans embraced polygamy for several reasons. Top on the list includes that men needed many wives to have enough children to support their farms and domestic activities. Not to forget that making many children meant having enough males to fight tribal wars, too. There was an interactive chat among lecturers and students of Lexington Community College in Lexington on this subject, back in 1995. There was a huge debate about the reasons for the practice of polygamy in Africa. The following was the submission of Emmanuel K. Twesigye, a Professor of Black World Studies at the Ohio Wesleyan University:

  • Polygamy was important because it was a measure of man’s wealth back in the day. A man’s wealth was measured by the number of wives, children and livestock he had.
  • It was prestigious to have more than one wife, mostly with the kings and the wealthy.
  • More wives and children provided political power and leverage in the community.
  • Polygamy provides food security as it provides more farm hands.
  • It provides more security for the household against external invasion.
  • It is/was considered a taboo in some cultures for men to have intercourse with women during mensuration. Polygamy helped/helps to prevent that, because the man had/has other wives when one had her mensuration.
  • It helps in child spacing and better health for mothers. It is/was also forbidden in some cultures to sleep with a breastfeeding mother.
  • Polygamy makes it possible for girls of marriageable age to get married. Otherwise, too many girls would not be married, because, generally, even now men marry at older age than women. This results in scarcity of marriageable men. Also, according to Twesigye, men tended to die quicker those days due to the nature of their engagements, such as war and lifestyle. This left, and perhaps still leaves more women than men on the planet at any point in time. As such, polygamy provided/provides the opportunity to accommodate more women and children under men as family.
  • This is also why women’s inheritance is practiced in some places on the African continent.

Note the combined use of past and present tenses above. The reason is that some of the traditions are no longer prevalent in some places. We have to say that we are in tune with Professor Twesigye’s findings. They are basically in tandem with our own body of knowledge as African traditionalists. However, there are always variations between communities in Africa.

The Great Debate On Polygamy: Besides Professor Twesigye’s findings, a lot of interesting issues came up, as expected, during the research on this subject. Some schools of thought argue that polygamy is a man’s strategy to suppress women and satisfy their sexual aggrandizement. Some argue that polygamy was, and still is exploitation of women by men. They posit that the system is screwed against women, and more for the satisfaction of male sexual needs, than that of women. They insist that women are largely forced into it by their parents.

          Our regulars may recall our drama series on this subject. We imply that one of Waduku’s four wives, Tonye, might have cheated on Waduku with another man outside. We imply that this is due to this feeling that women are being cheated in a polygamy when it comes to sex. The implied reason for Tonye’s implied cheating is that she was probably ‘horny,’ and her polygamous husband, Waduku, couldn’t satisfy her. She probably could not continue to wait for her turn in bed with Waduku, who was busy satisfying his own sexual urges every night with his three other wives. And, yes, our intention is to point out in drama, how polygamy may be seen as subjugation of women. If you missed the drama, not to worry. There is a link to the series waiting for you at the end of this piece.

Other debate participants argue that polygamy had/has nothing to do with sex. This school of thought includes women, too. “Afropolitan” online paper posits that even if it was for sex, there is a limit to the number of women that a man can satisfy sexually at a time. The paper maintains that it was more of status and wealth than sex, that drove men to polygamy. “The more wives a man had, the more his wealth grew,” it maintains. Well, we beg to modify Afropolitan’s position just a little. By our reconning, it’s more like, ‘The more wives a man had, the more he was perceived to be wealthy.’ Yes, women did support their husbands to grow the family through animal and crops farming. And, of course, the women also made the babies who enlarged the numbers of the families. But the fundamental perception, back in the day, was that the number of wives meant that the man was wealthy. The contributions of women in amassing the wealth were underplayed.

To balance the argument, it is posited that polygamy is not only at men’s advantage, but also offers women a high level of autonomy than monogamy can ever offer. For instance, when a new wife joins a family, the older ones have more time for themselves. They can focus on their business and raising their children. “Iyalode” in Yoruba culture is cited as a demonstration that women could be wealthy and powerful in their own rights. It is cited that, during the colonial era in Guinea, West Africa, a wife could get another wife for a husband. This could be for one of several reasons. One of the most common reasons was when the wife could not make enough babies for her husband. Another reason was to placate a nagging husband who could not get enough of sex, just to have her peace. These are still prevalent in contemporary Africa, including Nigeria. Don’t forget that we have instances of these traits in the Christian Holy Bible. Abram’s wife, Sarai got her husband another wife, Hagar, as a second wife. Hagar was Sarai’s Egyptian maid, and the purpose her marriage was to bear children for Abram. Sarai was incapable to fulfil that nuptial obligation (Genesis 16:1-3).

Again, in some cultures, there is another interesting advantage for men in polygamy. With the husband’s consent, a wife can get a rich male friend who can help repay the husband’s loans/debts. That kind of looks like pimping one’s wife; doesn’t it? Well, not really, depending on how it happens. We argue that it is okay if the woman picks a man who she fancies herself as the male “friend.”

A position paper maintains that “poverty and patriarchy remain the driving forces behind polygamy in Africa.” It says, “As long as our societies are marked by both poverty and patriarchy, polygamy will continue.” Her Royal Highness, Obi Martha Dunkwu, the “Omu of Anioma” (title) who is a known supporter of polygamy. She argues that the practice is cultural and should be encouraged, in order to sustain the population and culture. “Afropolitan” online paper quotes the first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkruma, on this subject. Nkrumah was Ghana’s president from July 1, 1960, to February 24, 1966. He said, “However unconventional and unsatisfactory this way of life may appear to those who are confirmed monogamists, and without in any way trying to defend my own sex, it is a frequently accepted fact that man is naturally polygamous.

The paper also quoted Jacob Zuma, former president of South Africa, in defense of polygamy, who once said that it is better than cheating. In the long chat between students and lecturers of Lexington Community College in Lexington, Sancha Johnson cited an example of a novel, “So Long A Letter.” It was by a Senegalese author, Mariam Ba. It paints all the ugly pictures of a character whose husband took a second wife, and the resultant hurts, pains and agony that went with it. This got especially bad after the husband broke ties with all her children, their children together.

Paul Konye opposes Sancha, saying that her example in the Novel captures the experience of a polygamist from a Western perspective. “You and I know that the idealized and lofty expectations of couples who enter into monogamous relationships are seldom met…We have not abandoned monogamy just for that reason,” Konye argued. He insists that singular examples in the novel cannot define polygamy. He argues that “unfaithful and conscienceless men” can be found everywhere, despite the type of relationship. He acknowledged that, though polygamy played its role effectively in its time, things are changing as times are. But, ultimately, he dismissed Sancha’s argument, by saying that the character in “So Long A Letter” suffered not because of polygamy, but because of unfaithfulness in the hands of an irresponsible man.

Matunda Nyanchama, in the same chat, also submitted that the rate of divorce in homes with monogamy cannot be compared with that of those in polygamy. Biola cited her personal experience in polygamy, saying that it was not favorable. She said that, with her father’s six wives, siblings’ “warfare” was common, up to date. “Even those of us who wanted to be friends could not,” she wrote. She acknowledged that polygamy might have been useful to our forefathers. However, the modern socio-economic system does not support it. But she finally gave a high score to the African traditional system, which she agreed was more communal and less selfish.

This brings me to the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of this debate. The fundamental lesson in social interaction, association, or co-habitation of any sort, is harmony, peace, love, and respect for each other’s space. It doesn’t matter if it is monogamy or polygamy, tolerance or the ability to accommodate each other (one another), and selflessness, are among the keywords. There is no doubt that these virtues are almost absent in most homes and have been replaced with jealousy, envy, selfishness and self-aggrandizement. And that is the bane of society, not necessarily the presence or the absence of polygamy or monogamy.

People often tend to blame everything else, apart from themselves, in failed relationships. But if you look deep inside, you will find that it is often the lack of the above-listed virtues that is the problem. Once this lack is not identified, fixing the problem will always be difficult. Remember the saying, “One can never solve a problem, when one refuses to recognize the existence of the problem.”

This is “AfroCultural TitBits” on “No Bullshitting” Blog (NBB). And I am your traditionalist, Udoakpuenyi. Let’s meet again to conclude the discussion, on the next edition.

A presentation of Udoakpuenyi

Contributory augmentation and editing by Harry Agina.

Here Is The Promised Link to the first edition of this series:

https://nobullshiting.com/nbb-afrocultural-titbits-on-polygamy-edition-1/

To The first In Our Drama Series On Polygamy. It Links You To The Rest:

https://nobullshiting.com/afrocultural-dramas-on-polygamy-and-the-deal/

Here Is The Lick Specifically To The Episode 3 Of The Drama Series That Has The Bit On Inequity In Sex Liberty Between A Polygamous Man And His Many wives:

https://nobullshiting.com/nbb-afrocultural-dramas-featuring-the-deal-3/

LINK TO EDITION 3 OF AFROCULTURAL TITBIT ON POLYGAMY:

NBB “AFROCULTURAL TITBITS” ON POLYGAMY, EDITION 3

 

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