There’s this “Thriving” thing going on. I got invited to a couple of “Thriving” groups, an interesting one being Thriving Polygamists. It’s interesting to note the acceptance of polygamy from both men and women in this group and I’ve found it fascinating when digging into our history and looking at the history of polygamy, polyandry and our African culture.
For most part, polygamy was a way of survival for our society over the ages. In many African cultures, polyandry – where women had more than one husband was common place. The main drivers for the cultural practice was self-preservation. Primarily, polygamy was the method which families guaranteed a supply of labour to till the land and be productive. The more children you had, the more it was perceived that you were capable of surviving times when life expectancy was low and local farming was the primary means of providing a livelihood for your family.
Polygamous families were seen as successful and it was accepted that women would be happy to become part of a successful family as 2nd, 3rd or even 4th wives. There is an element of that thinking in today’s society where if a man is capable of adequately providing for multiple wives and families, then for those involved, it’s a non-issue. It’s more about financial security and self-preservation. There’s a going joke that when a man makes good money, the first thing he does is get a 2ndor 3rd wife.
I have female friends who are either 2nd – even 3rdwives – officially or unofficially or MWKs. When we discuss the topic, their perspective is very clear. “Izo, this is about survival and financial security. I’ll be insane if I do something stupid to jeopardize the marriage of my Siponsa. That’s tantamount to putting me and my children at risk”. The other side of the spectrum are first wives accepting the fait accompli that another family is in the mix and all they ask is “Usi ni letea aibu”. Just look at the number of “new” families that turn up at funerals of moneyed men, families who may have been suspected, but are only just turning up for the birth rite of the children of the 2nd family.
It’s also fascinating to observe and learn about the interaction that started changing the conversation about African culture and polygamy with the coming of the white man who to be honest, still ply the falsehood that they came to introduce Christianity to primitive Africans, bring civilization and Commerce. This notwithstanding that African people already had their social order, civilizations, traditional religions, political and economic systems and were absolutely fine before the white bandits checked in.
Human beings have always and will always be communal. From the family, to the band, to the tribe, to the clan, to the village, right up to what eventually got to become nation states. In the same token, human society evolved to feudalism and individualism that was the primary driver of capitalism. The notions of the nuclear family and monogamy was packaged as a Biblical and Christian phenomenon mandated by God and indoctrinated around the world in the process of slavery and colonization.
The biggest tragedy was more the fact that colonial invaders over the last 500 years forced their way of life to the natives they colonized in total disregard to existing cultural and societal norms – effects of which we still see today. Just take a look at how country boarders in Africa, Asia and the Middle-East were curved up by the stroke of a pen by the British in total disregard to tribal and communal existence, decisions that to this day still have consequences say in India, Pakistan and the Kashmir region (the partition as it’s called, and in the carving up of Palestine and Israel.
Religion – specifically on the indoctrination that was unleashed on Africans – is the biggest culprit. The Church has a lot to answer for in totally messing up traditional cultures and norms that would have naturally evolved without interference. Take the Catholic Church for example. Divorce as opposed by the Church has nothing to do with the will of God. It has everything to do with the fact that the Catholic Church discouraged remarriage of widows and the whole divorce culture so that they could grab the land of widows who had no where else to go. The Catholic Church is perhaps the biggest land owner in the world today. The same was their enforcement on agreed norms around the world in all cultures about adoption, wife inheritance and any other practice that would stop them from grabbing land that would otherwise be inherited.
As a student of history and anthropology, it is fascinating to observe the historical journey of our African cultural traditions as they interfaced with religion that threatened the wrath of God if you dared adopt children, remarried after being widowed, or become part of a polygamous or polyandric family. It is the same religion that has made Africans feel primitive and shed off their perfectly valid traditional cultures and religions supposedly because God will be angry.