In an attempt to evaluate both marriage forms, it would be imperative and scholarly wise to define both terms: Polygamy and Monogamy.
According to the advanced Oxford dictionary of contemporary English, Polygamy is the custom of having more than one wife at the same time. Monogamy, on the other hand, is the custom of being married to just one person.
Monogamy is predominant in every part of the world and legal in numerous countries over the world.
In modern-day Nigeria, monogamy is recognized in civil law.
Religion also heavily influences monogamy. Especially Christianity. A portrayal of monogamy is in the popular story of the first man in the world, according to the Christian Bible, Adam, whom the Christian God joined with Eve, a woman. Also in the book of Galatians, Christians were admonished to have one partner to complete each other.
Monogamy is practiced by progressive families. A common reason people practice monogamy apart from religious belief is for fruitful companionship.
Two mature people loving each other, staying with each other, helping each other, completing each other.
A typical monogamous home consists of a man, a woman, and their children, living in consonance.
Polygamy has been long attributed to tradition. This is because many cultures over the world embraced it in the past. Slowly, it is becoming obsolete. Presently, only 2 percent of families in the world practice polygamy, and it is legal in only 0.5 percent of the countries in the world. Some of which are Singapore, Somalia, Solomon Islands, and South Africa.
In pre-colonial cultures, polygamy—polygyny to be precise—existed. Men could get married to multiple wives.
In modern-day Nigeria, although now illegal according to civil law, twelve states out of the thirty-six states recognize polygamy. All of them are regulated by Sharia Law.
A typical polygamous family constitutes a man and his several wives. Say three or more. And children, many children.
People practice polygamy for different reasons.
Some men marry many wives because they lose interest in just one wife—because they are polyamorous. Some men marry many wives because of their sexual cravings. Some men marry many wives to flaunt wealth—to be esteemed. Some men marry many wives to make housework easier. Some men marry many wives for reproduction—especially men who lack sons from the first wife. Some men marry many wives as a way to conserve widows and orphans.
I have this reminiscence from childhood: A rowdy, Fuschia-coated bungalow opposite my house consisting of a man and his four wives. A glut of children, both old and young, male and female, thronging in and out. The man’s name was Baba Mistura. Often, too often, I heard different voices disagreeing, hands banging on the door, breaking things. I would later find out that it was him fighting with his wives and his children. Sometimes, just his wives fighting each other. Sometimes, the children fought with each other.
Baba Mistura’s household was synonymous with unrest.
There are so many families like Baba Mistura’s. Households where cacophonies are day-to-day ballads. Households where children squabble because of properties. Households where there is a lack of concentration in child-rearing. Households that breed animosity and pandemonium.
A pivotal flaw of polygamy is the heavy and ghastly leaning on the patriarchal structure of the society.
Before I go on, I would like to say that although polygamy is a generic name, it is still centered on men. It is strictly polygyny— a practice of men marrying many wives.
Questioning the premise of polygamy will be a good start to tackle this.
Before plunging into details, it would be crucial to define polyandry. Polyandry, according to the advanced Oxford dictionary of contemporary English, is the custom in which women marry many husbands.
When we talk about polygamy, we obliterate polyandry and talk about only polygyny—the custom of men marrying many wives. This is because we don’t take women seriously. We don’t see them as people who are deserving of wants.
Take the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an example. In 1948, Theodore Roosevelt, alongside other officials, declared that all humans were born free and equal and deserving of dignity.
But today, women are still regarded as less. It is as though we exclude women from “all humans”.
This is the same case for polygamy. We often erase polyandry and talk only about polygyny, and that is a terrible imbalance at the start.
We do not talk about women marrying many men because it stains the fragile ego of the patriarchy.
We often use the excuse, “men are polygamous in nature.” But that in itself is a fallacy that society has made us acknowledge as true. It is a way patriarchy excuses men for lack of self-control. But when a woman cheats, we don’t use the phrase.
Aren’t women deserving of wants, too?
Now, polygamy—polygyny to be precise—exalts the objectification of women. It is the narrative that women are objects that drives the idea of marrying many wives to quench a man’s sexual cravings. Quench—an audacious word. Are women not worthy to be quenched, too? After all, research shows that only 40 percent of married women experience orgasms from their husbands. But nearly 100 percent of men experience orgasms from their wives.
Polygamy views women as property. Because men can “buy” as many wives as they want.
If we are not talking about polyandry when talking about polygyny, then we should not be talking about polygamy at all.
The whole idea of polygamy—polygyny—is rooted in misogyny and patriarchy, and it is dangerous for women.
Of course, quarrels happen in monogamous homes, but there’s a saying that goes: Big problems for big things, and small problems for small things. Monogamy promotes gender equality. It is a man and a woman, being full human beings, respecting each other’s autonomy, loving each other, and concentrating on their children. The feminist theory thrives better in monogamous marriages.
Monogamy also ameliorates major social dilemmas in polygamist cultures. There are minor levels of scandals, violence, poverty, and gender unevenness as opposed to polygamous families. In polygamous households, because of the tumult that comes from the home, larger levels of vices are likely to be birthed.
In conclusion, I would also like to state that there are always exceptions in life. There are polygamous families where peace and love lead. There are monogamous families where upheaval is tightly braided. But I believe, with all these stated, that monogamy is a lot more beneficial than polygamy.
About the Writer
Chinonso Nzeh is a law student at the University of Lagos, an African literature enthusiast, and a lover of old-school music. You can reach him via Twitter: @chinonso_nzeh. Or Instagram: @chinonso.nzeh. Or his blog, where he writes about his mundane personal experiences: https://nonsoscorner.wordpress.com/