By David G Maillu
One of the most sensitive subjects in Africa is polygamy. Why? Different mind sets have different reasons for this, some of the reasons based religious interpretation. Most white people think that every African man is a polygamist. Furthermore to them, to a large extent, polygamy is associated with primitive people. That is why many people in Europe and in America got the shock of their lives when President Zuma – a civilized man and President – came out proudly in his full Zulu polygamous colours. In fact, Zuma gave polygamy the credit it deserves. President Zuma and President Obama have given the Black Race psychologically boost and they should be given the highest cultural prize which, unfortunately, cannot come from the Nobel Prize institution.
Polygamy is a deal that is strictly between man and woman. Neither man nor woman can blame it on one person. To do so would be as biased as blaming prostitution on one gender. Today polygamy and witchcraft are publicly despised but privately they are appreciated. The other day I had a chat with the former head of the Kenyan Civil Service, Professor Philip Mbithi, who revealed to me his experience in the Kenyan top civil service. Majority of them, he told me, believe and engage in witchcraft matters.
The big question is whether polygamy is relevant or irrelevant in the African social scene today. In my published book OUR KIND OF POLYGAMY by East African Educational Publishers I said: That one’s meat is another person’s poison explains the dimensions of human differences and personalities. It is nonsensical, of course, to advance the claim that polygamy is wrong. Good questions to ask are: To whom is it wrong? Or under what circumstances does it become wrong? Africa has practiced polygamy as far back as the records can take us. Nobody would dispute that majority of great men in Africa come from polygamous marriages. My father was a polygamist. A child growing up in a polygamous marriages is given a unique workshop among his brothers and sisters for social development unlike children from monogamous families.
In fact, polygamy or plural marriage as it is called sometimes is found throughout the world and in a variety of forms that are determined by the culture of the people. Among the western people – the whites – the familiar term is consecutive polygamy. That is, marrying and living with one wife at a time, and this amounts to no more than a serial monogamy in which one husband is engaged consecutively in discreet monogamous unions. If he is dissatisfied by his wife, he looks for a reason with which to throw her out in order to create room for a new wife. That is why in those communities divorces are as common as malaria attacks in Africa. A man may end up in marrying three, four, five or more wives at different times. In Africa, when a man is totally dissatisfied by his wife, he leaves her within his estate and goes for a second wife. In other words, African civilization protects “divorced” women by giving them both family and accommodation. Literally, a man may live a monogamous marriage when he is, by history, polygamous. This fine social order protects both the woman and the children. If by any chance “divorced” mother gets a child from another man, that child inherits the name of the ex-husband; whereas in the western divorce children are torn apart from their parents. Furthermore, if the divorced mother gets a child from another man, that child is described as bastard. In African civilization there are no bastards.
The claim against polygamy based on Christian religion is absolutely baseless. There is no clear verse in the Bible which says NO to polygamy. In fact, one should not forget that God’s biblical heavy weights were polygamous, spearheaded by King Solomon with his a thousand wives, hundreds of them being concubines. It is the same Bible in Malachi which says, “God does not change.” That is, the God of the Abrahams is still the one and the same God of today. If God appreciated polygamy in the old times, when did God change to start despising polygamy instead of blessing it?
There are many reasons why people engage in polygamy. One of the main reasons is trying to solve a marital problem between the couple, which may be caused by one thing or the other, sex included. Another reason is adoption. In traditional Africa there were no free children for adoption. If a childless marriage desires having a child, the man adopts a woman with or without children to give the family children and continuation. This adoption philosophy is vividly expressed by the so-called “woman-to-woman” marriage. It is from this premise of adoption that we should understand the polygamy exercise of the late “Danger” man. Obviously, he did not marry all those wives because of his sexual urge. He was ax extraordinary adoptee of women. All the children born to the wives, whether fathered by him or not, were given his name. All the women married to him for whatever reason, felt fully married. In traditional Africa, sex is not enough to hold a marriage. No man in his full sense would divorce his wife because she went to bed with another man and even got a child from him. The value of woman was above sexual gratifications.