Jola Naibi

Writer and amateur photog. I seek to inspire and inform with the words I write and share and the photos I take. I have written a book of short stories: Terra Cotta Beauty, and I am working on a lot more. Reading and writing fuel my energy. In reading, I explore this vast and diverse world, in writing, I employ my over-active imagination and address the 'what-if' questions that life often throws at us.

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On Polygamy and How it Thrives

By on December 4, 2007

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 …

Thanks for the inspiration SolomonSydelle

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14 Comments
  1. Reply

    SOLOMONSYDELLE

    December 5, 2007

    I will have to come back and read this properly. But, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue. And if ever, feel free to write an epistle in my comments section. I will simply publish it as a proper post.

    lol!

    Will be back to participate properly in the discussion.

  2. Reply

    SOLOMONSYDELLE

    December 5, 2007

    Okay, I’m back.

    Your synopsis of the movie is way too realistic. I will confess that I am a bit emotional when it comes to the issue of polygamy, but I swear it makes no sense. I agree with Ekene Agabu who suggested that it is better to deal with this issue by addressing the women and not the men.

    As per the ratio between men and women, may I point out to Mr. A that the last Nigerian census pointed out that there were more men than women. I can only imagine how that will tip the scales in the not too distant future…

  3. Reply

    Omodudu

    December 6, 2007

    Jola I read the first part of your entry, and it is obvious you can not be objective about this issue. I love the way you write, but this entry arghn arghn there is a line between rant and objectivity. If you simply wrote: I hate polygamy period, it would have served the same purpose.
    Much love.

  4. Reply

    Jola Naibi

    December 6, 2007

    @ SS – Even without the census figures I think it is a slap on the face on womanhood for someone to may a blanket statement like that

    @ Omodudu – hmmm…I re-read my article just to try to see if I could glean some of your strongly worded perceptions from there…but no…but then maybe I can’t be that objective since it is my own writing. I will say this…I don’t HATE anyone or anything. What I intensely dislike though is the fact that there are many accepted norms in various facets of societies around the world which dehumanize the female race and subject women to unneccessary servitude. Polygamy is one of them. Another thing I dislike intensely, is that society has been set up (and I mention this in my article) in such a way that women of a certain age do not feel accomplished if they do not have a man attached to them…even more annoying to me is that a great deal of women accept this and worse still, a number of women enter into polygamous relationships based on these beliefs thinking they have no choice but to do so. I hope this explains it better…let me know if it doesn’t

  5. Reply

    CATWALQ a.k.a LAGBA-JESS

    December 12, 2007

    I have transitioned periodically between loneliness and being alone. Loneliness is one of the main fears of every woman. It is something that is indicated as a possibility if you don’t have a man in your life. I guess that is why a woman with alot going for her in her material and social life will feel panicked and compromise on her standards of a partner and thus accept polygamy.

    Polygamy is not as complicated as people make it out to be. It favours no one but the men; don’t give me the bull of women having protectors in the time of war. The woman who was there first feels there is nothing special about her as she was unable like millions of her sister to satisfy and keep her husband faithful. The children don’t understand why they have to share their father with someone else and the children outside begrudge the ones in the house for the “legality” of their position. The only people who have it good are the men.

  6. Reply

    Olamild

    December 14, 2007

    To say I’m speechless would be an understatement. I agree with everything u typed from the beginning to the end.

    How do we put a top to polygamy?
    It almost seems impossible… It’s just like this.. a man sleeps with 3 women, he’s all that he’s a pimp.. oh he’s good at what he does.

    When a lady sleeps with 3 men, she’s a slut, she has no morals. she’s useless… that’s the way it has been before we all came to this world. It has not changed. You would think that the pple of today (being educated) will be distinguished but no… we’ll rather embrace the old ignorant tradition..

    My question 4 u is
    How do we abolish polygamy?

  7. Reply

    Naapali

    December 16, 2007

    I read SolomonSydelles piece and did not know if I had anything to add. I still do not know if I have anything to add but this is me thinking out loud. My father was a serial monogamist and I am the first son from his second marriage. I have six younger sibs spread across three mothers. I love my sibs and am grateful for them. When my sister got married we all were there and my father was flanked by wife and ex-wives. We may as well be a polygamous family.

    I am a father of daughters and abhor any set-up that would treat them less than a full and equal part of society. Yet I cannot condemn polygamy per se just as I cannot condemn poly-andry. I choose to believe any arrangement entered between willing adults with their full consent is for those adults alone to stay or terminate. I know the challenge is that polygamy as it exists in Naija or Utah rarely is a union of equally willing participants.

  8. Reply

    Jola Naibi

    December 17, 2007

    @catwalq – Hear Hear…show me a woman in a polygamous union who can say from the bottom of her that she is loving it and would not rather switch to a monogamous co-habitation with her spouse. You are right in assuming the men have it good although if they want to be honest to themselves, something tells me they’d rather make do without the inevitable chaos that ensues from a polygamous arrangement. There are only some portions of it that can be enjoyable and those last for a short while at best

    @olamild – Good question. I don’t think it be abolished just like…society’s perception needs to change before we can start talking about abolishing polygamy. There are certain stereotypes which allow arrangements like polygamy to thrive. Let’s start with dealing with that.

    @naapali – Thanks for sharing your story and though I know I might get hammered for this…let me say that I probably have more respect for your dad than I would a man who gathers four women at a go. I don’t know what circumstances led to your father changing his partners but at least he did not have a collection of them. That being said, it doesn’t make it okay…imagine your dad as a woman and try to think of some salacious labels that would be attached to him. I found your last sentence interesting and I don’t think polygamy is usually a union of equally willing participants. There is nothing equal about a man who has five wives and each of the women he has. The women may be willing but that is often because they feel they have no other option.

  9. Reply

    laspapi

    December 18, 2007

    I just read a book, “The English Harem”, by Anthony McCarten, fictitious work about a young English girl who willingly entered a polygamous set-up in England as a wife.
    I say one thing though, without being an advocate for polygamy or its reverse. You would need a comprehensive poll of women in such relationships before you can declare the practice evil. A people’s culture is something that cannot be discarded lightly.

  10. Reply

    Bubbles

    March 1, 2008

    I came across your blog on NSB… guess you could say the title of your entry caught my eye, 😉

    You said in a comment: What I intensely dislike though is the fact that there are many accepted norms in various facets of societies around the world which dehumanize the female race and subject women to unneccessary servitude. Polygamy is one of them.

    Could you be more specific as to how it dehumanizes and subjects women to unnecessary servitude when she is free to seek a divorce if she is being abused or if her rights aren’t being fulfilled legally?

    Religion and culture aside, I don’t think you were totally objective in your post. Not liking something does not necessarily make it bad. Polygyny unlike polyandry is not inimical to human nature.

    Also, your friend made a valid comment. Globally the average lifespan of men is lower than that of women. Even though almost equal number of baby boys and girls are born, the availability of men is reduced one way or another, i.e., wars, prison, street violence, etc. So statistically speaking there’ll be more women than men.

    However, what I would have asked your friend was would he prefered his daughter to be married honorably as a second wife, than spend the rest of her life as a spinster or as public property.

    Rather than write them off as desperate and having low self-esteem, you ought to wonder what would make a highly educated women accede to marrying as a second wife.

    Like I said, not liking something doesn’t make it wrong. No woman want’s to share her husband. But would she rather know he’s married to another woman and faithful to both of them or not know he’s a philandarer with many girlfriends multiples ‘wives’ and numerous bastards all over the place?

    Just my thoughts.

  11. Reply

    Bubbles

    March 1, 2008

    Please check this out and let me know what you think. It’s pretty long, but if you scroll down to the end, it sums it up:

    http://yeyeolade.wordpress.com/2008/01/22/black-women-need-positive-polygamy-to-save-black-families/

  12. Reply

    Nijawife

    March 5, 2008

    No other way than its a man’s world and nothing can change that.

  13. Reply

    Jola Naibi

    March 6, 2008

    @laspapi – I have not read ‘The English Harem’ but have a made a mental note to look out for it. I never declared polygamy as ‘evil’ my main argument is this – polygamy is not a union based on the equality of the parties involved and it is still a relationship that favors men more than it favors women…no matter what you tell me that will continue to be my argument looking at it from any angle

    @Bubbles – I think before you question my objectivity in this case and leading back to my statement which you quoted ask yourself this…how will society view a woman who decided to take on four husbands? Answer that and then tell me that polygamy does not dehumanize women…it is okay in society for a man to be married to more than one woman at a time but let a woman attempt to do something similar and then we’ll see how acceptable it is .

    Your analogy of a man in a polygamous union and a man in a monogamous union who cheats on his wife does not drive home the point even further…women cheat too…so where does that leave us???

    The point of my post was not to show whether I liked polygamy or not that being said…I am not a huge fan of it …but to show that it is hugely biaised in favor of men in terms of its acceptability in society.

    Thanks for stopping by and I will take a look at that link you suggested…

    @NijaWife – Yep…it’s a man’s world…but he ain’t nothing without a woman or a girl

  14. Reply

    Anonymous

    March 12, 2008

    Thanks for replying my comment 🙂

    Asking me how society views a woman that marries four husbands is like asking me how society views homosexuality. Some people are okay with it, some find it repulsive.

    What I am driving at is Polygyny, unlike homosexuality, is not inimical to human nature. In other words, nature has made it such that a man can marry more than one woman and still be capable of fulfiling his duties to all of them.

    If a woman married four husbands, on the other hand, firstly, she cannot fulfill each mans desires. Secondly, if she gets pregant how would we tell who the father is? Thirdly, she can only have a child, at least, every year, if she is healthy. Suppose on the average each man wants to have three children….. let me not even go furter.

    Using society as your point of reference I’d say a woman marrying four men it bound to destabilize society more than a man marrying four women. Like I said it’s not practical because on the average there are more women than men.

    If a woman cannot take on four husbands at a time, or if she has two or three co-wives, it does not mean she is being deprived or dehumanized. If she’s not happy with the marriage, she’s free to leave.

    Some people have benefited immensely from polygynous unions while others have had bad experiences. It cuts across the board.

    IMO jealousy, more than anything is the major stumbling block for a woman accepting polygyny. Next is the fear of maltreatment, which is justified. The way I see polygyny is nature approved, man abused.

    Bubbles.

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