by Hauwa Mundi
Polygamy, from the Greek word ‘polys gamos’, meaning ‘many married’, is marriage between more than two partners. When a man is married to more than one woman, it is referred to as Polygyny; and when a woman is married to more than one husband at a time it is called Polyandry. The latter is not a common practice in Africa, but the former is more like a tradition passed on to us from our fore-fathers.
In Nigeria, polygamy is practiced more in the north than down South. There’s hardly any family in northern Nigeria which doesn’t have a history of polygamy.
There was a time when the ‘strength’ and ‘might’ of a man was measured by how many wives he had and could live with. It was believed that living with one woman is trouble so having more than one shows that the husband is a ‘real’ man.
Personally, I do not see polygamy as such a negative thing. This is not because somehow I am also a product of polygamy, being that my paternal grandmother was a third wife, but because I choose to look at the brighter side of it and not otherwise.
Growing up in the north, we were filled with admiration for the polygamous homes, we could hardly tell in such families which woman bore which child. Most times the wives were usually within the same age grade and they conceived almost at the same time. If one of the women went out and left her baby behind, the other would breastfeed the child for the period the mother is away. This created some kind of bond between the kids, their stepmothers and their half siblings.
The women did almost everything together, wore the same kind of clothes, went out together and were also very considerate with one another when it came to sharing the nights to spend with the husband. In those days, they’d refer to each other as ‘Abokiyar zama’ meaning a friend to live with, more like someone to partner with.
The first wife will accept the second whole heartedly and welcome her into their home, this was so because the women knew that the man wasn’t marrying another wife because he stopped loving them but because he simply wanted to have a large family and also, probably reduce his chances of flirting with women outside his matrimonial home. In some cases the first wives even searched for the women for their husbands to marry.
Things are quite different now. Men now have various new reasons why they take a second wife or more. Most times the men blame the first wives for their decisions. In some cases the reasons are quite genuine and in others they just come up with flimsy excuses as justifications.
Some people think there should be no reason what so ever to marry more than one wife but I do not belong to that school of thought. Most women tend to change after marriage, they feel they have achieved what they wanted so it’s pointless ‘fighting’ for the relationship. They lose touch with those things which attracted the man in the first place.
Today’s men never want their women to stop being their girlfriends simply because they are now married, they still want to look into their wives’ eyes and see the girl they fell in love with. Change, they say is the only constant thing in life, our ability to adapt to these changes determines how well we get to live our lives. Some men would never look at their wives differently, no matter how much she has changed but others cannot just live with certain changes and would do anything to ensure they get what they want.
I had an encounter with a man who told me his reason for taking another wife. He said he likes slim ladies and that it is a fact everybody who knows him is familiar with. It is almost a normal phenomenon however for women to add weight after childbirth in this part of the world. The moment the kids start coming, women usually have this massive increase in weight and almost loose shape. I have seen countless cases but also met few women who managed to keep fit.
Anyway, the man in question married a very slim lady he fell in love with and then suddenly he wakes up four years into the marriage and realizes he does not recognize her. He said he did everything he could to ensure she lost that weight but she just wouldn’t oblige, saying she already has too many things to deal with like taking care of the house and kids. He started getting irritated at every instance, he almost stopped feeling anything for her but would not let her go considering the children they have together, so he made the decision to take another ‘slim’ wife.
I asked the man what the assurance was that the new slim wife wouldn’t be where the first one is now in another four to five years. He explained to me that nowadays when a man takes a new wife there’s always competition between both wives. The first one would now realize that her not doing anything about her weight would mean completely losing her husband to the new wife, and the new one knowing that the first wife’s weight is one of the reasons she was married will ensure she keeps fit so the husband wouldn’t have to marry another wife after her. I found this very hilarious.
Women stopped welcoming the idea of having their husbands bring in second wives when the men made it a habit to abandon the first wife and her children if a second one is married. Recently the younger wives try to use everything within their power to ensure that the man obeys their every call, suddenly the first one is no longer good enough. Two or more wives hardly live under the same roof now because that would be a recipe for disaster in the household, sometimes the men would even go ahead and marry a new wife without telling the first one, just so he doesn’t ferment trouble.
Though having more than one wife is actually not a guarantee that a man would not date other women outside because men could get really greedy, but being Africans and considering the fact that our cultural beliefs do not forbid us from practicing polygamy (polyandry) I strongly believe polygamy could be more of a blessing than otherwise to us.
It allows more women to be married and not left being single. There’d be no issue of mistresses because all the wives would have equal rights. This reminds me of Susan Carpenter McMillan’s response to the following question “Would you rather be the second or third wife of Mel Gibson or the only wife of Willard Scott?” her response “if it comes to Mel Gibson, I wouldn’t care if I was one, two or three”. Ladies could still get to be with the man they love, it wouldn’t be a taboo to fall in love with a married man. A man who is a lover of kids and a large family who can also afford it, would have his wishes come true without anybody being hurt.
I’ve been asked several times if I could marry a man with a wife or more, because of my stance on polygamy. My response: “Hunmmmmmm.”