20 April 2018
Polygamy in West Africa
Polygamy is the practice of having more than one spouse(wives). When a man is married to more wives at a time, they are in a polygamous marriage. This practice is mostly practiced in Africa.
Polygamy rates are higher in Western Africa than in Eastern Africa. The African slave trade helps explain the difference. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (TST), which occurred from 1400 to 1900, led to prolonged periods of abnormal sex ratios that impacted marriage in the region. More male slaves were exposed to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade than female slaves, and the capturing of males resulted in a seriously decline in the number of eligible men. This dearth of males in West Africa ultimately correlation with the historical levels of polygamy rates across African ethnic groups, since this dearth shows roughly about 180,000 black men dead.
The African slave trade have long been thought to have had negative impact on African economic development through their erosion of political institutions. However, less attention has been paid to the emergence of abnormal sex ratio on the African continent at the time of the slave trade. The lengthy periods abnormal sex ratio created profound implication for marriage institution across Africa which is a point also argued in Thornton (1983). In Africa it is mostly believed that the rich have multiple of wives because this shows how rich and wealthy they are. The bible also talks about polygamy in (2 Chronicles 13:21) says, “but Abijah became powerful; and took fourteen wives to himself, and became the father of twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters.
Slave exporting existed as an industry for hundred of years in Africa. The African Slave Trade comprised four main slave trades: The Trans- Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, and Trans-Saharan, of the four slave trades, Nunn (2008) documents the Trans- Atlantic as having by the largest total volume of slaves over the period 1400-1900. Slaves were primarily produced by raiding and capturing between groups in the continent who then sold slaves to traders in exchange for imported goods. In Ghana this practice is termed as the Barter trading, barter trading is exchanging what you have to get what you want, in other to get food, gun powder, mirror, education etc. our ancestors had to trade their kids and family members to get their needs in other to survive, when a family head refuses to this system of trading the younger and healthy ones are been captured.
The impact of the African salve trades on Africa societies was substantial. According to Manning (1990), the slave trades dramatically impacted the population trajectory of the continent. By 1850, Africa’s population was half of the level expected, had the slave traded not taken place. The volume of exported slaves led to significant drain in labor and human capital, for those African’s remaining in the continent, life became more uncertain and insecure. Nunn (2008) and Nunn and Wantchekon (2011) provide useful historical summaries of the consequences of the slave trade on African political life. The sex ratio of exported slaves depended not only on the available supply from the African continent but also on the demand for slaves to be imported to their various destinations. If one gender of the slaves that were been imported is highly demanded more than the other genders, this would lead to skewed sex ratio in the remaining population.
Skewed sex ratio point to a further possible consequence of the slave trade. The argument for why skewed sex ratio might cause polygamy or make higher polygamy rates possible is as simple as it might seem; there are more women than men, and, in order for women to have a spouse, they marry in to polygamous households. Polygamy could have emerged or been strengthened during the long period of abnormal sex ratio; however, it could be the case that the age difference between husband and wives are huge. There is reason to believe there were pressures pushing African towards the polygamy response in the case of the slave trade.
The main source of Trans- Atlantic exports was from the Western Coast due to it close proximity to the New World. Male slaves were viewed as being able to perform a variety of tasks. As a result of this preference, traders exported disproportionally more males from the Western Coast, according to Klein (1993, this trade flow consisted of over 60,000 slaves and was one of the first instance of record keeping with respect to gender. The pattern for 15,000 slave exports from Guinean Coast by Danish traders in the late eighteenth century is similar. 64 percent of the slave exported by the Danes were males, British exports of 83,000 slaves in the last decade of the eighteenth century were less concentrated geographically than the Dutch and Danish exports. Drawn form the entire Western Coast, 62 percent of the slaves exported by the British were males.
Middle Eastern and Indian buyers demanded African slaves for use in variety of roles, but as Harris (1971), Lewis (1990), and Phillips (1985) all argue, the demand was especially strong for female slave to be used as domestic servant, concubines and even as sex trade. Manning (1990) document the slave exports from the Eastern Coast were disproportionally female. The ratio of female to male exports from the Horn of Africa was exceptionally high.
Polygamy has existed in all over the African continent. These types of marriage have been more present in the whole of Africa like no other continent in the world. One of the reasons why this has happened is because the African Societies have managed to see that children were form of wealth (female), and this way a family with more children was considered to be more powerful. Under these circumstances the polygamy in Africa was considered to be part of the way you could build an empire.
Only after the colonial era in Africa, has appeared polygamy has started to be perceived as a taboo, as this was one of the things imported along with the colonist that took over some regions of Africa. Some people are saying that there was also an economic reason why this has happened; there were many issues of property ownership that conflicted a lot with the Europeans Colonial interest.
At first the polygamy was very popular in the Western part of Africa, but as the Islam has started to diffuse in the region, the prevalence of polygamy has started to continuously reduce due to the restrictions that appeared to the number of wives. For example, polygamy is very widespread across Kenya and right now one of the most prominent single individual practice is Akuku Danger, who was as managed to become famous thanked to the fact that he is married with over 100 wives.
Even individuals are thinking about that South Africa by far one of the most developed countries in Africa, in the region, there are still many traditionalists out there that are constantly practicing polygamy. Even the president of South Africa; Jacob Zuma is declaring openly that he agrees with plural marriages and he is currently married to 3 wives, and at the same time he has 20 children with these women and the two previous wives that he had in the past.
Another country where the polygamy is accepted is Sudan. Under the circumstance the Sudanese president; Omar Hassan al- Bashir has always sustained polygamy and he says that these multiple marriages are one of the options available for Sudan in order to increase it population.
Another factor for its start was war. When numerous men die in combat, having more than one wife boost the population. A person’s status in society and wealth become associated with the number of wives a man had, on the contrary, polyandry was a way of limiting a population with few resource and too many people. A woman can only conceive and birth so many children no matter how many husbands she has had.
Currently (2015) polygamy is illegal in Ghana, although laws against this lifestyle are not heavily enforced against those who choose to live it. Polygamous marriages are illegal under the civil law. They are arguably considered to be legal under the customary laws. Men in polygamous marriages can more easily transfer the cost of childbearing and rearing to women. The religions that consist in Ghana currently are 12 percent Muslims, 38 percent traditionalist, 41 percent Christians, and the rest (about 9 percent) other. There were points of conflict in terms of marriage where the Islamic and traditionalist belief support polygamy while Christian belief support monogamy against polygamy. Nevertheless, religious tolerance in Ghana is very high. With that polygamy has existed all over Africa because it represents aspect of the culture and religion. Polygamous unions have been more present in Africa like no other continent around the globe.
In most Islamic house or traditional families, the birth of a new born baby girl is the start of a journey and riches to them. New born baby is betrothed to a rich man who already has families as debt the parent of the new born owes to this rich man, in order to pay and settle their debt they sell their babies to older men as a guarantee that when the kid is of age she would be his wife. Most younger girls in Islamic and traditional homes end up in polygamous household to help support their family from debt and shame, most girls end up eloping and committing suicide to their arranged marriages.
Before we look at the negative implications of polygamy, it would be important to understand why this system was practiced to date. To many, these custom serves as a dynamic principle of family survival, growth, security, prestige and continuity. In most African homes it was important for a man in traditional society to continue his family name into future lineages. Marrying many wives ensured that the husband would have many male children to carry on his name. It also meant that one would be remembered and honored long after their death through his children and grandchildren.
In the agricultural perspective, many wives meant that one would have necessary labors for farming, taking care of livestock and performing all household chores. This was coupled with provision of help when necessity arose. A larger family was symbolic for strength and unity in the family. It was also seen as a way to maintain happiness and add meaning to life. Having many wives was also a route of keeping the man from being amorous. The reason was that most wives denied their husbands conjugal rights after childbirths for up to two years. Hence having an additional wife meant the husband could be unfaithful. For a husband having many wives he would get many daughters in marriage, if the gods of the land would grant him his wish by having many daughters as kids. In most African traditional societies, it was considered a vice for a woman to lack children especially in marriage (Jenecks and Milton,2010), women who lacked the ability to have children were mostly mocked by the societies and they were called witches and blamed for their misfortune.
It was for this reason that most African women preferred to have a co-wife than remain single in ridicule. As such polygamy solved the problem of single parenthood. It also offered women the security and dignity required for self-realization. The death of a brother’s husband whose wife had not passed childbearing age qualified for a wife inheritance. The brother of the deceased was obliged to marry his brothers widow (Beamen and Calder ,2013). However, in the contemporary world today, most of those practice have been overtaken by time and can no longer be practicable.
Effect on women in polygamous marriages, In my view, polygamy is a way of life that should not be allowed in society due to its negative implications. Primarily, it creates male dominated marriages where the woman is left voiceless in the whole set up. Secondly, it forces women into subordinate roles and results in unworkable families full of strife, abuse and incest (Ward,2010). Polygamous families usually live in isolated communities that are totally unaffected by the outside world. The isolation of these town raises eyebrows concerning security, safety and health of the town dwellers that the state laws enforces, federal law and the country at large. (Beaman and Calder, 2013). It can therefore be argued women face greater risk in polygamous marriages. The standard argument remains that polygamy subordinate’s women and fails to treat the latter as equals with men.
Over population in affected countries in Sub- Saharan Africa, the cultures of polygamy have contributed to explosive population growth since the early 1950’s (McMahon, 2010). By exposing almost all women to early and prolonged dangers of pregnancy, polygamy results in high fertility rates between seven and nine children in these polygamous countries. The introduction of low- priced effective healthcare and sanitary technology from developed countries is also a contributing factor (McMahon, 2010).
The control of sexually transmitted infections becomes very difficult in the practice of polygamy. Take for instance a man who has five wives under his wing he will engage in sexual relations with all of his wives since he is married to them all, using protection becomes consequential. If either the man or one of his wives is suffering from sexually transmitted diseases every other participant in the fold is at a higher risk of contracting any form of sexually transmitted diseases. This was meant that they were more likely to engage in extra-marital sex and were at risk from getting infected. This act proves that women were at higher risk from men with three or nine wives as extramarital sex partners.
As a form of behavior, Christian missionaries and Eurasian society consider polygamy morally wrong and barbaric. Well- read Christian- African elites in Sub- Saharan Africa, believes polygamy is backward, bush and barbaric behavior. To outsiders, polygamy is highly undetestable social system who origins is traced back to pre-sexual assault, statutory rape and failure to pay child support (Jencks and Milton,2010).
Another argument against polygamy is more often than not, it is likely to present harmful effects especially towards the women and children. Women in polygamous marriage are at higher risk of having low self esteem issues, depression and constant worry compared to women in monogamous relationships. Additionally, women in polygamous marriages are prone to depression when they become pregnant since their husbands divert their sexual attention to other wives. These women are typically subservient to their husbands who only value them for their childbearing roles. Consequently, polygamous women are left devoid of any powers to exercise any control of the marriage. This buds into feeling of powerlessness and emotional turmoil (Bennion, 2012).
Several studies also show that only a small fraction of women in polygamous marriages work outside the home (Ward, 2010). Most of them lack the mandate or ability to seek employment. Research on polygamy among Arabs revealed that first wives are inferior to junior and subsequent wives. They experienced more economic hardship and less satisfactory relationship with their husbands. Some scholars also noted that polygamous marriages caused harmful psychological effect on a number of first wives. This practice caused mostly the women to seek mental health treatment and psychiatric outpatient services. Several of these psychological disorders seen widely among first wives and teaches described relationship with husbands and fathers as neglectful. This showed a lack of interest and minimal interaction with them and their children. This caused them to suffer adverse effect from the polygamous union. On the contrary junior wives were highly favored by their husbands. They were allowed to obtain more economic resources and support.
Effect on children from polygamous families, research indicates that children from polygamous families are at heightened risks of developing harmful effect. There is considerable evidence that point to these children experiencing higher incidence of marital conflict, family violence and disruptions than do of children in monogamous families.
In conclusion polygamy in Africa is a very common practice that you are going to find all over Africa, but it tends to be more popular and common especially in West Africa countries. This practice is very common among the animist and the Muslim communities. For example, in Senegal there are almost 47 percent of the marriages where they feature more than one woman. In the Arab nations the percentages are even higher and there is also the Bedouin population that you can find in Israel, where around 30 percent of them are part of multiple marriages. And along with all that there is also the Mormon fundamentalist who lived in polygamous families and homes.
Polygamy is a bad way of life because, there are know form of peace, happiness and togetherness in those families that practiced them. As a young child growing up, I was raised in a monogamy family before my dad decided to make our family polygamous, there was hurt, disappointment, and hate every single day was affected by it when I was growing up. This made me have hate for a particular tribe that is Ewe in Ghana. My mom had no other option than to seek for a divorce because she doesn’t believe and want to rise her kids in a polygamous household. In my view polygamy has to abolished and banned across all over the world not only in Africa.
Polygamy effect in families, societies to the country have been shown to be diverse. It is clear for many, particularly men that there are positive aspect of leading a polygamous life. for the remaining many, polygamy remains a stubborn lesion that result in sadness, depression, confusing, resentment, loss of identity and love. It is therefore not surprising to realize that women and children oppose this type of family life and wish to form monogamous families in the future. Moreover, members of the family do not succeed in overcoming their anger, jealousy and antipathy. It has also been highlighted how intergenerational fighting, emotional turmoil, and interrelation conflicts are prevalent. It is important that community awareness of these potential negative effect of polygamy be elevated and addressed urgently.
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