On Polygamy and How it Thrives
I got the inspiration to write this from SolomonSydelle’s recent post on Polygamy and the State of the Union in Nigeria
I remember a conversation I overheard a few months ago during which a gentleman who I had up to that point considered bright and forward-thinking justified the existence of polygamy by claiming that the ratio of women makes it impossible for polygamy to go out of fashion. I found that statement so incredibily chauvinistic and ignorant especially when said-person balked at the suggestion that perhaps he would not protest if his own daughter became a part of a polygamous union. See entire conversation here
While there are many ways we can confront the issue of polygamy and probably say that one of the reason it has thrived for centuries in our society is because of religion which allows it, SolomonSydelle tackles this point by drawing our attention to the fact that polygamy has historically been practiced by Muslims and Christians alike. Leading one to deduce that it is often more of a traditional and cultural issue in many cases more than it is a religious one.
One angle that I would like to look at this from (which I find particularly nauseating) is a situation where an accomplished woman enters a polygamous union. We have to admit that society can often unfair to women – it is amazing how many people are of the point of view that at a certain age, a woman needs to have a husband to validate her existence no matter how well accomplished she is.
This particular angle was highlighted in a movie that I watched recently. I love to watch the movies in Yoruba because it enhances my Yoruba-speaking skills which were not so stellar to start with and have begun to seriously deteriorate the longer I am away from home and also because in my experience the Yoruba movies that I watch border more on the reality as I remember it to be back home. I was given the movie Iya Oko Bournvita which features Sola Sobowale as the central character. We learn that she is a sucessful business woman who has acquired a fair amount of wealth from the lumber business. Her only flaw seems to be the fact that she does not have a husband and children. Her mother puts intense pressure on her (there is a scene where she is told that every woman needs a crown in the form a husband) and she feels less accomplished because of this so-called void in her life. She ‘hooks up’ with Jide, who already has a wife and kids and becomes wife #2. She is introduced to Wife #1 who instantly blows a gasket at the thought of her husband having another wife and evicts herself from that domestic situation. Wife #1 goes to complain to her family who send her back to her husband saying that polygamy is part of their religion and culture and she has acted badly by defying her husband’s decision to marry another wife. You would think that Sola Sobowale’s character would be somewhat comfortable with the fact that her husband’s first wife is no longer in the picture (not that it makes it alright in any case), but she is the primary advocate of getting her back into the household and even refuses to move into the family home unless Wife #1 returns. While all this is going on, Jide (the husband) marries Wife # 3 (who has her own set of issues which I won’t go into) and dares Wife #2 and the rest of the world by extension to protest.
Art too often imitates real life. I think this mini-synopsis of the movie gives an indication on how a polygamous situation can easily be created. Some women allow society to dictate what the level their self-esteem should be and this makes it alright for them to ‘play house’ with a man with a wife in a polygamous union, not realizing that she is merely a glorified mistress she calls herself a wife.
A lot of work needs to come from our womenfolk – while there are many out there who will swear to be single for as long as it takes rather than become an addition to an already established marital union, others would take the advice of our ‘educated’ friend whom I refered to in Overheard and start looking at other people’s husbands when the tongues start to wag about their status.
Without conducting an indepth analysis on polygamous unions in Nigeria, I know for a fact that this could not usually the basis for most of these unions, but you’d be surprised at how many unions are born out of situations like the one portrayed in Iya Oko Bournvita. And thus, polygamy continues to thrive …
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