Written by Francis Nwordu

In Africa, the practice of polygamy strives because most Africans believe that a man is supposed to have more than one wife under his control, in order to show that he is more superior than women in the society. It impacts negatively on society and creates poverty in the system.

Polygamy is one practice that has been embraced by many parts of the world in the present and past day social system. Emily Yoffe suggests, it is a way-of-life that enjoys an age-long history, and it accepted in different parts of the world according to the cultural variations. This way-of-life has occurred in African society when one man marries more than one woman. The practice of polygamy is quite pronounced in African cultures and accepted, while several social groups are refusing its ideology. The custom theory of the idea has been a traditional concept. In fact, polygamy is one of the practices that popularly observes as a common focus in the society of Africa. This very integral part of the African tradition or norm, only transformed to a large extent when some African cultures embraced Christianity as a result of copying Western culture in some situations. According to scielo.org citing, Kyomo and Selvan (2004:35) suggest that polygamy as an issue has been the preoccupation among African theologians and scholars, right from the 1960s, and it is still a relevant argument till to date.

In Africa, the practice of polygamy strives because most Africans believe that a man is supposed to have more than one wife under his control in order to show that he is more superior than women in the society. Usually, African culture influences many emphases on the fact that men are strong enough and capable of taking care of a large number of women.

Before Islam and Christianity arrived in Africa, the country had a religion that was popular and known in the conventional world as the African Traditional Religion (ATR). This religion recognizes polygamy as an acceptable practice among its adherents. Islam is one of the first foreign religions established in African society, especially in the Northern part of the continent. The polygamy as an aspect of religion made it far too easy for most Africans to accept the beliefs of Islam. With the rise of Christianity, many years later, Islam religion had been rooting in some African societies, as a result of trade and other activities. Thus, it caused to change people’s viewpoints about polygamy as a custom. Most Africans had to decide between continuing with the practice of marrying more than one woman as a way of life or accepting the dictates and the tenets of the new religion that came along with westernization. However, people will still agree that polygamy as a way-of-life in Africa, and it will always be a norm because many African societies, especially the rural settlements among them, still have strong adherents of the African Traditional Religion (ATR). As a way-of-life, certain benefits have derived from the practice of one man having to live or get married to more than one woman. When a man decides to have more than one wife, he enjoys the company of his wives and the members of the family to a certain extent. Another gain that can derive from having more than one wife in a marriage tradition is that there may be an increase in both human and material resources for the family, in time to come. This is possible because where you have so many people as members of a given family, there is a likelihood of having an abundance of both human and material resources.

Polygamy also has its pitfalls. Elbert Hubbard was a popular American writer who lived from 1856 to 1915 described in his words that “Polygamy is an endeavor to get more out of life there is in it.” This quest of man to get more from life comes with some consequences. 

Overpopulation is one of the most notable disadvantages of polygamy. It can arise as one of the consequences of having numerous wives. This is guaranteed to happen since every woman who is married to a man desires to have her own kids in order to be counted as a mother in society and be respected by all people. Another unfavorable effect of polygamy is that it may lead a man to poverty if the man is not capable of handling the financial pressure and challenges that come along in keeping a large family. Most households in Africa cannot afford three square meals a day as a result of tough economic situations or poor system conditions.

Most Africans need better orientation on why polygamy has to be controlled as a practice if the consequences have an impact on various African societies. The general public has to gain appropriate education regarding the dangers of having more than one wife and how it can be abusive to them and society. The governments of various African countries should intensify the effort to be aimed at controlling or checkmating the consequences of practicing polygamy, as in such,

  • Put adequate measures to curb or control the rate at which men go about marrying more wives than they can be able to afford and handle. 
  • Set up an agency that will be in charge of informing people and educating them on the need to maintain a small family based on their financial capacity. 
  • Create employment opportunities to enable people to engage in gainful ventures and be employed.

Apart from government involvement, religious bodies of a country must also play a significant role in curbing the negative impact of polygamy. Although they must counsel men in the society of how having one wife and a small family can allow them to ease their social depression. It will help both the man and all the members of his family to live a happy life. When a man is able to manage or succeed in taking care of his wife and his children, society, in general, will be prosperous and stable. And also, educational institutions and other organizations must consider this issue to overcome the negative results of polygamy.

In a nutshell, we can say that since polygamy has always been a regular practice in various African societies, any individuals that do not have resources to take care of a large family must follow up with thorough advice against going into it. The authorities in charge of states, religious bodies, and other organizations must play active roles in managing the impact on African society in a responsible procedure.

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