July 26, 2022



I am Harry Agina. We are on the 5th edition of Afro-Scope’s “AfroCultural TitBits” Category. At the end of the last edition, I actually ruined the surprise-plan of our traditionalist, Udoakpuenyi, My blaba-mouth sometimes seems to have a mind of its own, you know! I could not control the blaba-mouth to keep Udoakpuenyi’s secret. So, I had to blab to you that he is making a change in this edition. Our series on Kola-Nut, the “Holy Communion Nut” of Africa, is taking a break for a while. But I also said that the series is not really over yet, not by a long shot! It just so happens that another one of the usual NBB trinity-conversations happened again. You know, the chat often happens between ‘Me’ ‘Myself,’ and ‘I,” thus:

In a cool reflective mood, ‘I’ said to ‘Myself,’“Self, our fans are getting bored with this kola-nut stuff already. So, why don’t we give them some varieties for a change? We can bring it back later.”


So, ‘I’ said to ‘Myself,” “Why the fuck not, huh?! Let’s do it, like yesterday, already!” And the rest was left up to ‘Me’ to present the resolution to you, our dear beloved fans. That resolution, is to give you Udoakpuenyi’s new series of AfroCultural TitBit for variety. This time, he has Polygamy In Africa for ya! Then, after a while, we’ll come back with the rest of our kola-nut series for ya.

We have entertained our regulars with four editions of our drama series on the same polygamy subject. That’s in our AfroCultural Drama Category. If you’re new to NBB and you missed it, not to worry. I’ll link you to the first edition, which will link you to the rest of the series, at the end of this piece. We figure that it would be nice to complement the polygamy drama with some titbits on polygamy. Yeah, you may call us sticklers for embellishment of our discourses, from various perspectives, in various forms.

So, coming your way now is the first edition of Udoakpuenyi’s new series on polygamy in Africa. But, is polygamy really an African thing? Let’s find out what Udoakpuenyi has to say about that, and more:

AfroCultural TitBits on Polygamy In Africa: Episode 1

The Fuss about Polygamy—The African & Global Perspectives

I have been wondering how to effectively discuss this subject without betraying my male gender. It is my intention to sound as objective as possible, so that I do not cause a gender war in this piece. I will, therefore, discuss its prevalence around the world, its acceptance, and even the reason for it from the African perspective.

A fact is that the debate about polygamy has been on for some time. It became prominent after the invasion of Africa by Western culture. We will get into some of these debates down the line. Meanwhile, let’s start with some background information. Head knowledge tells us that polygamy is when a man marries more than one wife, right? Yes, but wait a minute, it has a flip side, too, called polyandry. That will be the subject of another discussion.

In researching this topic, I stumbled into Pew research of interest. The findings will lay the foundation for this discourse, especially on the prevalence of polygamy across the world. My reason is that we live in what that research calls the polygamy belt.

We tend to assume that polygamy is an African thing, rampant specially in Africa; right? Wrong, not according to the Pew research! The research has bust this ‘myth.’ It submits that only 2% of the global population lives in polygamous HOMES, especially in Africa. On the other hand, over 11% of the population lives in polygamous ARRANGEMENTS, without the home-sharing between the spouses. The notion is scatted around the globe, with less than 0.5% in most places.

          How Widely Legal Is Polygamy?: Another myth is that polygamy is an old practice that is going extinct in most places around the world. The reverse is the case. Polygamy was criminalized in the US in 1882, but now it is no more of a punishable offence in most states. In February 2020, the state of Utah reduced the penalty for consenting adults living under the same roof to a, “low-level offence that is not punishable by jail term.”

In most regions of the Middle East, polygamy is largely legal, but the practice is not very common, according to the Pew report. I know you are surprised as I initially was at this information. Yes, we used to think from this side of the world (Africa), that everybody in the Middle East is a polygamist. We believed that their chauvinistic males were using the protection of religion to satisfy their sexual avarice. In Africa, the practice is legal, and practiced widely, especially in the Sub Sahara region called the polygamy belt. Despite its prevalence, the United Nations Human Right Commission called for a ban on polygamy, describing it as “a violation of the dignity of women.” But did it stop it? To this extent, we can say that the practice is resilient.

          Is Polygamy A Cultural Or Religious Practice?: While people in the West would see polygamy as a social practice of cohabitation, it is both cultural and religious in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. While it is more religious in most parts of the Middle East and Asia, it is more cultural in Africa. This is especially so in Burkina Faso, where 45% of adherents are traditional believers, 40% are from Moslem backgrounds, while 24% are Christians. Burkina Faso population tops the list of practitioners, with 36% of Burkinabe population being polygamous. They are followed by Mali with 34%, and Nigeria in the third position with 28%, the report states. It posits that the ratio of Moslem versus Christian adherence to the practice of polygamy is 25% against 3%. That means that we have more Muslim practitioners than Christians. Chad stands as an exception to this figure, with 21% Christians against 10% Muslim practitioners.

It is also surprising that Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Egypt have just 1% of homes with polygamous arrangements. This is contrary to common belief. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and other neighboring countries were not part of that study, due to the paucity of data.

In Nigeria, polygamous marriage is not recognized at the federal or even at the state levels. Only the first wife is recognized as the true wife. But it is recognized at religious and traditional levels. The twelve Northern Islamic states in Nigeria recognize it at the customary levels. Many accuse the Muslim world of weaponizing polygamy as a means of global domination without war. Muslims draw their strength from the Quran verse 4:3, which supports them to take as many as four wives. Prophet Muhammad is cited as an example.

There is a historical position that polygamy started in the Arabia, in the seventeenth century AD. It was considered as a support system to accommodate women and children after a war, who lost their fathers and husbands in the wars. Among the 43 references to polygamy in the Bible, one of those that I found interesting is the story of Abram and his wife Sarai (Genesis 16:1-3). Sarai herself got her husband another wife, Hagar, her Egyptian maid, as a second wife. Hagar’s purpose was to bear children for Abram, because Sarai realized that she could not fulfil that nuptial obligation.

There is also the story of Bilhah and Jacob who offered her maid to give the family a child (Genesis 30:3-5). The deduction here is that even in the Bible, polygamy was largely circumstantial. There was an unusual deviation from this, with a man called Abijah, who became rich and powerful to the extent that he took 14 wives for himself alone (2 Chronicles 13:21). That’s greedy, isn’t it? Even in the New Testament, I could not find any specific verse where polygamy was condemned. Rather, Christ was emphatic about divorce, and he stated tough conditions for that (Matthew 19:9). He probably did not bother about it. Rather, he was more interested in the union and the bonding of the sacred institution.

Polygamy Specifically In the African tradition is next, on NBB’s “AfroCultural TitBits.” We shall get to the details of why polygamy was important in ancient Africa. This will include the reasons why men needed many wives. Next, on edition 2 of NBB’s AfroCultural TitBit on polygamy.

A presentation of Udoakpuenyi

Contributory editing by Harry Agina



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