Polygamy has been in existence since time immemorial but why do people practice this system of marriage? Who benefits from this practice? And who suffers? Correspondent CHRISTOPHER SICHINGA lifts the lid on polygamy and traces the route of its existence.
A brief history
Victor San Miguel in his book: Christian Sociology pointed out that polygamy existed to a greater extent among the Jews, the Egyptians and the Medes as well as among Greeks and the Romans. Generally speaking, we can say that the issue of productivity and the need to have a powerful family caused the desire for many children. This naturally led to the practice of polygamy.
Studies in social anthropology emphasise the fact that; this practice emerged in the period when power, authority and honour were given to those who had several wives and children. It was also practised for social security and just for fun.
Research has shown that polygamy can be traced to a time in history when there were more women than men, due to the war, diseases and other circumstances. Having more than one wife was meant to help unfortunate and marginalised women. Ã‚Â In the present day, people may opt for polygamy for a number of reasons, such as a wife’s infertility and the desire to father children.
The reasons may differ from one person to another but are they even-handed?
Polygamy in the Holy Bible and the Holy Koran
In the Old Testament, polygamy was practised among the people of Israel. The practice was tolerated but it was not approved per se. As B. Harring attests in his book: Marriage in the Modern World.
Jesus Christ gave a better understanding of the institution of marriage in the spirit of the New Testament. The idea of monogamous marriage is also clearer in the first letter of Paul to Corinthians 7:2 (Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband).
In the Muslim faith, however, polygamy is permitted, on condition that the man loves and cares for all his wives equally.
Pope John Paul in his apostolic exhortation “familiaris consortio” of 22 November 1989 strongly opposed polygamy for it negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning. It is contrary to the personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with love that is total, unique and exclusive.
St. Augustine stoutly taught that the good purpose of marriage is better promoted in monogamous families which were made by the Divine Being Himself. He emphasised that the Patriarchs had many wives because they wanted more children, not for the purposes of fornication. Presently, the common understanding is that fertility is no longer regarded as a reason to justify polygamy.
The practice does not secure stability and security of a home which was supposed to be a heaven here on earth.
Usually, a man in a polygamous relationship favours one wife and one family above the others. Think of jealousies, rivalries, inheritance issues and discords that normally take the place of family love. It’s really hard to handle and to manage.
Three essential values of the family should be considered; the well-being of children, the interpersonal relationship between spouses and the good of the society at large.
The government should do something about this and traditional authorities ought to be empowered to sensitise their communities to the dark side of polygamy. Non-governmental organisations too, ought to come up with an action plan to combat this superfluous custom. Religious groups on the other hand, should teach their members the sacredness of marriage and the divine purpose of it. Yes, it all goes back to one’s religion, culture and personal conscious but it is also essential to have a critical mind.