In the scholarship of sociology, polygamy comprises of both polygyny and polyandry. Polygamy, the more common, is marriage of one man to two or more wives while polyandry is one woman to two or more husbands. Polyandry has not really advanced to the level reached by polygamy due, may be, to a not-too-easy-to-identify a child to the biological father in such a family set up if the child does not bear resemblance to any of the men. The few communities known for polyandry are the Eskimos who live in the northern pole, Artic region and north of Europe. Another is the Koma people, who were discovered in Gongola state of north eastern Nigeria in 1987, who were subsequently visited by the then dynamic military governor, Col. Yohanna Madaiki. They live atop a mountain and were completely caught off from the rest of the surrounding communities.
A visitor to a man in both communities would be amazed when his host friend offers his most lovely and dear wife to the visiting friend at night to sleep with. It is their culture as the best manner to welcome and honour a dear friend. God help that friend if he refuses the offer. The host would feel slighted and deflated and may not forgive for the lack of understanding of the host’s culture of respect for visitors. This is the only form of polyandry known yet. I have not heard or read about one woman to two or more husbands under the same roof.
Back to the early times when man was beginning to settle down for rest at a regular spot call home, nucleus family was also taking its roots. Women necessarily had to ally with men for their economic survival, mainly food. To provide food, strength was needed. This, man had in abundance in masculinity, an advantage they had over the women’s femininity. It was therefore imperative that men took the advantage to have as many wives they could cater for. In no time, it became a norm as women hardly opposed it.
If the first wife is jealous enough to protest an incoming second wife the second wife had no qualms joining the fray. She would not complain anyway as she is the intruder, although there have been cases when the second protests the coming of a third wife after her. And all cultures have had customary taboos or religious injunctions in place to checkmate women’s objection.
We do know that a practice of thousands of years is interned in the marrow of our bones if not in our genes. It becomes normal and a reality as the texture of matrimony within that culture.
As we ascended modern times, most men began to have a rethink. In the pre-colonial times, financial demands for the up-keep of the family, particularly the up bringing of children was not costly. By the age of 10, the child would be introduced to the trade of the parents: farming, trading, blacksmithing, carvings, palm wine tapping, cloth weaving, earthen pot moulding etc. It became imperative for men to think twice as a response to the new economic dispensation that came with colonialism. Children must be clothed at all times, purchase of toys and a long period of training and education required huge amount of money, if the children must be prepared for a better quality of life in a later life. Most men heed their inner call “the fewer the merrier” Culture alone cannot guarantee, let alone determine, multiple marriage.
Let’s look at a scenario. A group of women who detest the dominance of men in a community decide to hold a meeting on how to handle men. To avoid the prying eyes of men, they went to a secluded bush where upon they stumbled into a gold deposit of land. They swore among themselves to possess the gold for sale and advised themselves to settle and make that land their home. They also swore to bring in men but would not ever bequeath inheritance to any male including their own male children. The women would also have the liberty to marry two or more men as each wished. Men would be brought in from other communities than theirs. Shower them with the monetary proceeds. Buy them expensive cloths and porch cars. The men who would accept this culture at that beginning would have laid a foundation for a different culture as, in 200 years afterwards, children born into that culture would see it as a reality in matrimony. All norms have their roots in human reasoning and actions and when it becomes prevalent sticks as acceptable culture
which are eventually accentuated by taboos or injunctions still by humans and not invisible entities up the sky call God.
Acceptability of norms within all cultures are not all or none. Individual differences in human dictates the degree of acceptability. It is a case of “different strokes for different folks.”
Since the inception of Nigeria, there has not been any successful prosecution of law of bigamy for which a man can be punished for breaking his marriage vow by marrying another woman in addition to his first wife.
Two court cases of 1948 and 1952 were not successfully prosecuted as the Judges in the different cases could not, on moral grounds, continue with the proceedings. They were both not only from a polygamous (polygamy) background, they were neck deep in it with multiple wives. Education has not changed the belief in some men. You would conclude after all men are the beneficiaries in polygamy. However, we should not forget that three types of marriages exist in most sub Sahara African nations: native laws & customs, Muslim and Christian or Registry.
Humans hardly wish to loose what they gain from. It is a natural law as an adaptation of the brain heavily secured by perception.
What about the women folks. Have they fare better by rejecting the system?
Dr. Doyin Abiola married late Chief MKO Abiola as the fourth wife under Islamic laws. Could any one fault her? She was aged 40 plus or minus even if we are to hold the socio-status of MKO as a factor. I know a Ugandan Muslim, who at age 34, disserted her husband who took a second wife. She secured an exit to the UK, with her only one child, where she phoned the husband and told him to forget her as she had gone for good. She said she was not the type who can stand her husband being shared by another woman. She did not go beyond Primary/elementary school at 13 years of age. My point here is that both religion and low level of education could not checkmate her impulses and revulsion to polygamy. “Different strokes for different folks.”
Hameed and his wife with four children between them live in Dublin, Ireland. They are both from Zanzibar part of Tanzania. Hameed may not have had a secondary education but his wife had. Hameed goes to Zanziba about twice a year with goods. One day, the wife got a call from Zabziba and was told her husband had just married another wife in a Muslim marriage registry. When Hameed arrived in Dublin, the wife handed him his belongings at the entrance door and told him to leave or else she would call the Garda (Police) to throw him out. Hameed quarried her for violating Islamic laws against a wife throwing a husband out of his house. His wife replied that in Islam, you do not deny your wife before any man let alone the government of any nation. I am a single mother to the authority and social welfare here. You stay here free. The social welfare pays my rent, not you. Your stay in this house is therefore illegal.
Hameed got the import of the warning. He left and thereafter began to appeal to the wife in the next three weeks. On asking the wife how she wanted it resolved, the wife told him to buy a ticket for both of them to go to Zanziba so she can witness the dissolution of the second marriage and she will hold on to the certificate. Hameed agreed,they went to Zanziba and only after which he was allowed to reunite with his wife. They both did not go beyond high school.
Legislation against bigamy or the prohibition of polygamy in the Ivory Coast in West Africa has not been successful too. Houphet Bougny, the country’s first president after independence wanted to be more French than the French. He passed a law against polygamy in the early 60s. By the late 70s, he found that many of his nation’s women had accepted to be second wives. As a second wife, a woman would take up the first name of her husband. Like if the husband is Didier Drogba, the second wife would become Mrs Didier while the wife answers Mrs Drogba. To the women, there are fewer men to women. What happens to the balance women? We need men too to father our children even if we are to ignore the need for sexual urge itself.
And if one is to also consider the incidence of natural and Biological selection in the difference between the population of men and women arising from XX in the chromosomes of women and XY also in the chromosomes of men, the donation of one by each male and female from their pair of these chromosomes means that it could be a ratio two or three women to one man in all given communities given that there are three X to one Y. I hope my statistical calculation is correct.
Men too are prone to premature death by accidents due to their more involvement in hazardous economic activities. Men also die more in wars. Many women therefore will be left without men of their own. Can we therefore fault the Ivorian women who defiled the law of bigamy? Legislation has failed too.
We are therefore left with individual differences in the acceptance of polygamy. We all cannot lie down facing one side unless something is wrong with us. “Different strokes for different folks” is the palm oil with which we eat our roasted yam (life). More so, “it is the tree that fell in our time that becomes our firewood. Hence those who still think multiple wives is a status symbol should have a rethink vis-à-vis their financial capabilities across a life time or else heartache may be the end result. Bob Marley advised “who the hat fits let him wear it.”
And I say, according to my ancestors, “We do not tell a child not to grow protruded teeth provided he has enough thick lips to cover them.”
Emokpae Odigie Is Personal Assistant To The Oracle Of Ogbe. [myad]