October 13, 2022



I am Harry Agina, and this is “Afro-Scope,” with our series on “AfroCultural Titbits” on Polygamy and Polyandry In Africa. Afro-Scope is a Magazine House with a potpourri of various forms of AfroCultural InfoTainment shows. We offer “AfroCultural Titbits,” “AfroCultural Drama,” “AfroCultural Traditional Dances,” and many more Categories. I am Harry Agina, the Director. In the past three editions of this “Titbits” series on polygamy and polyandry, we only addressed polygamy in Africa, with the mention of polyandry in passing. We did start the series with global overview and comparison. The idea was to establish the fact that, contrary to popular notions, polygamy is not peculiar to Africa.

I, personally, hardly discuss polygamy without reference to the biblical story of King Solomon. According to the Christian Bible, the dude was a record-holder, with 700 wives and 300 concubines. He was an Israeli, and not African. I do have the link to our past five editions of this series for you at the end of this edition. And this edition is on the flip side of polygamy, which is called polyandry. In polyandry, the women enjoy, or suffer, whatever it is that is there to enjoy or suffer when one has multiple spouses of the opposite sex.

So, yes, we want to talk about women with multiple legitimate husbands in Africa. Contrary to popular knowledge, the matriarchal system is widespread in Africa. Without going through complicated technical grammar, matriarchy is a social system in which women have authority over the family group. By extension, women and female groups exert a similar level of authority over the entire community. In such societies, matrilineal system is also the order. And, it is not “a man’s world.”

The world has two systems of family lineage—patrilineal, and matrilineal. In simple language, patrilineal families bear the family names of their ancestral male gender. The roots of the families are traced from the male gender lineage (through the father’s line). And matrilineal families bear the family roots and names of the ancestral female lineage (mother’s line). Lineality has its implications in various ways, including determining who inherits property upon the death of the head of the family. This, we shall address in our subsequent editions. And we will address a recent Supreme Court ruling in Nigeria, which has changed a tradition of patriarchal inheritance in Igbo land.

Meanwhile, several countries or/and regions/communities of Africa practice/practiced matrilineality. They include: The Zazzau community in Nigeria; the Kandake tribe in Sudan; the Nzinga tribe in Angola; and the Ashanti tribe of Ghana. One of the most perfect and most enduring historical matriarchal systems in Africa is in black Ancient Egypt. Also, matrilineal societies are widespread in Southern Africa. The southern half of Malawi (except the most southern tip) is matrilineal, too. So is the northern Mozambique and north-eastern Zambia. In Tanzania, the broad coastal belt south of Tanga, including Dar-es-Salaam, Morogoro and the Uluguru mountains, is matrilineal.

Polyandry is practiced more in Africa today, but it does exist in other parts of the world. Examples of where it currently exists outside Africa include the Plateau of Tibet, near India and Nepal. It is also widespread in the Tibet Autonomous region of China. Polyandry also exists on the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Having stated my global overview, it’s now time to bring in my colleague, Udoakpuenyi, to continue with the narrative:

I greet you, good people! This is Udoakpuenyi. You are already aware of what time it is now. We have talked about polygamy, with the women folk arguably being cheated. Harry has brought you this far, citing King Solomon who set a record with 1000 wives and concubines. One thing that has not been effectively denied in the feminist arguments, is the fact that the women in polygamy are in it because they want to be in it. Sure, there have been relatively few cases where it was forced on the women. But so has it been in monogamous marriages sometimes, too.

Anyway, to even it all up, we did promise to talk about polyandry in Africa, too. This is where the women folk have the upper hand, with more than one husband if they want. I am happy to redeem my promise of giving us a story on polyandry. Whenever I fulfil a promise, my feel-good hormone is released. I know that this topic will sound strange because polyandry is not common to a lot of people. It is not common because people do not often hear about it. Harry has defined it in simple terms, and I will try to complement his effort. Yes, polyandry is simply a reverse of polygamy, which is a situation where one woman marries two or more men at the same time. Just like men in polygamy, a woman may marry several husbands.

It may sound strange to some people around the world because the practice seems to be fading away in most cultures. The closest reference we found was in South Africa where one lady named Muvumbi Ndzalama is advocating for polyandry since 2021. Ndzalama has two men, but she is not really yet formalized married to any of them. She told the BBC that she’s engaged to one “anchor-partner” with whom she had a son. She also has another “joy-partner” with whom she fulfills her sexual orgy. Really? She’s just having fun with the promotion of polyandry, since she’s not married to any of the men. She said she didn’t want to get married yet, but she sees herself marrying more than one husband in the future. Her activism on the matter came after the South African legislature pushed for a law on polyandry. The Bill seeks to grant equity to women, following a recent law on polygamy which permits men to take more than one wife.

This was not without a push back from people, especially religious groups who thought it was sacrilegious to live in such a “warped” society. It’s a tough battle, and still remains one till date. For instance Bishop Marothi Mashashane, the President of the South African National Christian Forum, described the development as “a disgrace and mockery to both our religion and our African cultures.” The bishop promises to mobilize forces against the bill.

Islamic groups have also rejected the polyandry argument, describing it as alien to the religion. Muslim Judicial Council’s spokesperson, Muneer Abdouroaf, said it was “foreign to Islamic law.” The bill which is expected to be passed in 2023 is facing enormous challenges. Ganief Hendricks, the leader of Al Jama-ah, a Muslim political party, said he will support a street protest against the Bill when the time comes. Legalization of polyandry is one of the contents in a 67 page document called “The Green Paper,” which seeks to accommodate and provide a legal framework for all South Africans who wish to enter into marriage contracts of all sorts.

Let’s take it back home to my own country, Nigeria. Apart from the traditional practice of the Irigwe tribe of Northern Nigeria that was outlawed in 1969, not much of it was seen in Nigeria. In this instance, a married woman is permitted to meet other men called “co-husbands,” to make babies with them. They do not necessarily have to live in the same compound. In such arrangement, the live-in husband owns the babies. So, you see a woman with one husband but plenty of babies from different men. Everybody knows and understands one another. This is strange, in today’s world; isn’t it?

The closest similarity in recent times is something that evolved in the southern region of Cross Rivers State, Nigeria. It is called “Series Monogamy.” This was not part of the culture of the people. It’s something that evolved as a result of economic pressure, or greed, if you like. One woman is allowed to have babies from different men. These men are usually rich, such that the baby gives the woman access to the man’s purse. Some of these women start from one broken home to another, until they decide not to be married to anyone. But they can make babies with any man of their choice who meet her criteria. The practice is gradually gaining the attention of culture custodians. The custodians criticize it as something that tends to upturn the culture in a manner that siblings from the same mother bear different surnames. This is the same situation that the culture of “co-husband” created in the Irigwe before it was banned in 1969.

Harry has generally touched on polyandry within and outside Africa. I am complementing him with some specific stories. Polyandry is not particularly unlawful in Kenya. Somewhere in Kenya, the marriage of a woman to two men have been making the rounds since 2013. Outside Africa, polyandry seems more popular in India according to reports. A research conducted at the University of Tibet in 1988 saw that 13% of 753 Tibetan families practiced polyandry. The report saw polyandry to prevalent in the Northern India area of Paharis in the Jaunsarbawar region, as well as in the Kinnaur, Himachal area.

There is a story of descendants of the legendary stool of Pachi Pandavas. Five brothers married a woman named Draupadi, daughter of King Panchala. They believe that custom places a responsibility on their shoulders to sustain the polyandry culture. Other tribes where polyandry was found in Southern India were the Toda tribe of Nilgris, Najanad Vellala of Travancore, and Nair tribe.

Why Polyandry Was Practiced In The Past: We gave you the history of the reasons for the advent of polygamy in Africa. Now I have some factors that promoted polyandry, too. The practice of polyandry was common in societies with scarce natural resources, such as land. It was believed to enhance child growth and survival, and limited or controlled the human population.

For instance, the Himalayans practised polyandry because of a shortage of land. The marriage of all the men in a family by one woman ensures that the available land space was not divided. Dividing the land would have been necessary if brothers in a family married separate wives. And, the portion for each man would be insignificantly small.  In Nepal, precisely, it was traditional for two or three brothers to marry a single wife. The people in that area were core traditional society, whose occupation was mostly farming. The people stayed with their traditional lifestyle until recently, when civilization eroded their culture. Reports say that it was as a result of tough economic condition in the area. In order words it was an economic survival strategy.

Finally, polyandry was waned in Africa because of the masculine nature of their cultural traditions. It will be interesting to see how the South African example will go by the time the bill is passed. However, it may continue to evolve into different forms as it happens in Nigeria in the name of “Serial Monogamy.” It is also important to mention that Serial Monogamy is not limited to Cross Rivers State in Nigeria. It has spread across the country and even beyond and gradually gaining popularity among elite women who may like to be known as single mothers. No matter how much this practice is criticized, the financial inducement and incentive will continue to sustain it.

Here are pictures of three polyandry families for you:


Written by Harry Agina and Udoakpuenyi


Editorial By Harry Agina: So, folks, we have gone through the process of polygamy and polyandry in Africa. We also talked about the fact that the word ‘divorce’ was almost non-existent in traditional African marriages. That was before the new wave “modernization” rush, which has overly modernized Africa’s cultural traditions with borrowed foreign influences. Don’t get me wrong, though; evolution and reasonably favorable changes must continue to happen on planet earth, for the better! My problem is with changes that seek to totally extinct the African Culture.

We mentioned some of the not-so-good changes in traditional marriage system in contemporary Africa. One example is our traditional “Iju-ase” (according to the Igbos of Nigeria). “Iju-ase” means investigation of characters and family backgrounds of the entangling spouses. It hitherto ensured that one was marrying a spouse who had integrity, and it also ensured compatibility between the spouses. As the “Iju-ase” tradition continues to wane, divorce, which was hitherto very low in Africa, continues to rise in contemporary Africa. Why? Because when one spouse finds out about undesirable traits in the other, divorce happens. But if the “Iju-ase” tradition was observed, the incompatibility would have been detected, and the marriage avoided in the first place.

All that, to introduce our next topic for this series on polygamy-cum-polyandry. Umm huh, I speak of divorce in Africa. But that will be for our next edition of “AfroCultural Titbits” on Polygamy-cum-Polyandry in Africa. Now, here is my final comment on this matter, addressing Udoakpuenyi’s story on the pending legislative Bill on polyandry in South Africa. It is very chauvinistic, and very unacceptable to me that the Muslims in South Africa want to continue polygamy, but they kick against polyandry. Whatever is good for the goose, must be good for the gander, I always say! They claim that “polyandry is alien” in their community. So doggone what?! Arguments for equity and fairness must never be put down for any reason in any society!

I have my consistent argument on this, and my regular analogical example is very simple, thus: When the killing of twins was abolished in Africa, it was also alien at that point in our lives. But the abolition happened because it was agreed that killing of twins, which was based on spiritual ignorance, is wrong and evil. Should we have continued to kill innocent children for no good reason, simply because it was alien at the time that the abolition was introduced? Of course not, and we all agree on this! Also, the Christian Bishop Mashashane’s statement that polyandry “is a disgrace and mockery to both our religion and our African culture” is quite unbecoming of a so-called “man of Godly.” The God who he claims to represent is a God of equity and fairness! The bishop’s comment is the disgrace, and not the Bill that seeks equity for women in the society.

It is ignorant, chauvinistic, and nonsensical for the religious groups to claim that polyandry is “sacrilegious,” except if they also condemn polygamy. Equity and fairness demand that they can’t call polyandry “sacrilegious” without saying the same about polygamy. Again, whatever that is good for the goose, must be good for the gander. This is where we sign off today on this series. As I have said, we shall bring you our conclusive edition next week. As you know, anything that has a beginning must have an end, too. An end to a marriage comes in one of two forms; either by the death of one or both of the spouses, or through a divorce. Death is a natural given, so our interest is divorce in African marriage. This, we shall discuss in the next edition. We shall be treating two topics in one—“Traditional Marriage,” and “Polygamy-cum-Polyandry” In Africa. Until our next edition of “AfroCultural Titbits,” this is Harry Agina signing off for now from “Afro-Scope.”

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