One of the products of colonialism which has left very deep scars on the cultural institutions in Africa is monogamy. It’s effects have been far-reaching and disastrous yet, the victims have been reluctant to speak against it out of fear for backlash and misplaced prejudices.
The reality everyone has continued to shy away from is that the destruction of polygamy has continued to shred the moral fabric of Africans in so many ways.
Polygamy which is essentially the practice of having multiple spouses, has a long history in Africa and has been practiced across different cultures and religions. It was the cultural practice in place in Africa for many centuries. In pre-colonial times, polygamy was often associated with social status and wealth, and it was common for men in positions of power, such as chiefs or kings, to have multiple wives. Polygamy was also seen as a way to ensure the continuity of family lineage and to provide support for large families.
The effects of polygamy in those days was tranquility, respect, happiness, and peaceful and prosperous homes. Sadly, monogamy has ensured that all that can only be wished and hoped for.
It is a well-documented fact that with the advent of colonialism and the spread of Christianity and Islam in Africa, polygamy came under attack and was often prohibited by colonial authorities and religious leaders. Today, most African countries have laws that recognise monogamous marriages only, although some countries, such as South Africa and Kenya, allow for customary marriages, which can include polygamy.
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The state-endorsement of monogamy in most African climes has ensured that polygamy is now being treated with disdain and scorn.
It is however pleasing to note that despite the legal restrictions, polygamy has remained a common practice in many African societies, particularly in rural areas and among certain ethnic groups.
Any deep-thinking conscious African who has a knack for sincerity would agree that one of the ways in which economic and social challenges faced by families, such as poverty and lack of access to healthcare and education was addressed in the time past was polygamy.
Today, quite a lot of people have made it a habit to criticise polygamy and lampoon polygamists. Their ill-informed arguments have always been that it perpetuates gender inequality and reinforces patriarchal norms. What the people who hold this view have refused to accept is that marriage institutions and the society, in general, were better off when polygamy was commonplace.
In recent years, there has been a growing debate in Africa about the merits and drawbacks of polygamy. Some argue that polygamy is a traditional practice that should be respected and preserved, while others argue that it is incompatible with modern values of gender equality and human rights. While those who believe that polygamy should be culturally reinstituted have clearly explained the danger of monogamy to the fast eroding African values and how the last was better, those against polygamy have failed to highlight how to stop the ensuing drift.
The African society has evidently not been the same ever since the practice of polygamy was truncated by adherents of foreign religions. Infidelity in marriages, prostitution and other forms of appalling immoral behaviours have gained legitimacy in African societies where it was hitherto almost non-existent. It is high time Africans told themselves the painful truth that polygamy is the most compatible system of marriage with their culture and quietly return to it.
Nigeria as a case study provides insight into the damage, polygamy has done to the continent. When the country is viewed through the Northern and Southern dichotomies, one will easily notice that marriages in the polygamous North are more stable than that of the monogamous South. Southern Nigeria is highly dominated by women without a husband yet, there is a higher level of prostitution in the same part of the country. What an irony!
Rather than emulating their Northern counterparts in marrying more than one wife, southerners have continued to see the North as backward, yet they queue in their thousands annually in various courts to settle divorce cases.
The painful truth that many won’t disagree with us, is that an average Southern man today may have one wife today, yet the same man has tons of girlfriends he maintains outside his marriage. The big question is that wouldn’t it have been better if he were to officially marry those ladies he keeps as girlfriends and save himself the stress of being misunderstood and subjected to all manner of derision by the society?
It is not out of place to conclude that a man, who has three or four wives whom he concentrates on is less likely to have a girlfriend or concubines outside his marriage. Rather than spend aimlessly on girlfriends with whom he has no real relationships, he could as well invest those funds into his home if they were his wives.
Before polygamy was attacked and decimated in Africa, stories of couples accusing one another of infidelity with divorce cases lingering in courts, cases of men murdering their wives or wives murdering their husbands over allegations of infidelity, or the instances when men and women died in hotel rooms during sexual flings with young men or women were never heard of. All these anomalies were promoted by monogamy which has failed to find their solutions.
The reality is that the logic that man should restrict himself to one wife, in order to live long, is faulty, because polygamy is still practised in many African societies and even being indulged in by Nigerians, no matter how unofficial. And in various instances, these polygamous men even live longer than their monogamous counterparts. It is actually a matter of choice and controllability. African men should ask themselves how their forefathers married more than one and themselves and their wives and children mostly lived longer than the present generations.
In as much as the choice of a partner was grossly influenced by parents in the olden days, sustaining and building the marriage was purely the responsibility of the couple and obedience to societal laws. Any man who came to the realisation that one woman was not enough for him and he had the capacity was always encouraged to get another one. This is surely the way to go.
It is high time people began to speak up to encourage polygamy. The level of prostitution and adultery prevalent in the society clearly shows that it’s been a pretense all along. It is time to end it because, in the African man’s self-seeking attempt to practice monogamy, the resultant effects are lies, cheating, heartbreaks, an increase in sex drive, and even death.
Africans have been brainwashed to believe that polygamy is evil and without understanding what the merits of monogamy is, they have continued to promote and infuse it as a cultural norm. This has to change.
Granted that infidelity generally does not have a total cure except self-control. However, certain practices, which are indigenous to Africa, can help ameliorate infidelity to the lowest level and this is the truth. One of the practices which were used in the past was polygamy and Africans must stop demonising it.
In Nigeria, under the Matrimonial Causes Act, LFN 2004 and Marriage Act, LFN 2004, polygamous marriages are not envisaged, rather it is monogamous marriages (one man, one woman). However, the truth remains that, the enactment of those pieces of legislation does not abrogate the traditional or customary practices of Nigerians. There was culture and tradition before the colonial masters arrived to teach Nigerians a fresh way of doing things.
In conclusion, the reality which is saliently shared by many Africans is that; should the society start promoting polygamy again, there will be a drastic reduction in the culture of infidelity, and again the dangers presented by the thriving industry of ‘side-chicks’ will reduce and by extension. The dockets of single ladies, unhappy spouses, and broken homes will be grossly depleted. It is high time Africans returned to polygamy. Enough of the pretenses and borrowed deficient culture.