I read this post this morning and it resurfaced feelings about my situation. If you have time read it and then read on, or just read my post if you so choose.
(Note for those who’ve not been following my blog – I refer to Baba as my father but in Australian terms he is my father-in-law. My mother, my mother-in-law. Because of the acceptance and kindness shown me by the family I refer to both my Australian family and Ghanaian family as my mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers.)
My father Baba, previously mentioned throughout this blog, had four wives. They had 23 children in all, my mother, who passed before I could know her, had the most, which was eight. The third and the fourth wives were indirect sisters of the first and the second respectively. They came as young girls to help their sisters in the house and help care for new babies as they came along. When they grew up Baba went to their families and offered to marry them so they could stay in the house and continue their part in the family. I have always seen this as such a loving and caring action, especially knowing the kindness of my father, and one of supporting the continuation and growth of the family with people who are familiar, not new strangers entering the house. These young women already had their place and even though they’d now be a wife they’d lived there for 10 – 15 years already. Why would Baba send them home when everyone was happy enough already and the status quo could be maintained?
My only problem with it is when it comes to the clashing of cultures. My husband often refers to his parents marriage as being a happy one where they each had their own business and things to do. My parents have given me an opposite example of a couples’ affairs being intertwined and inseparable. Both our views on what makes a happy marriage are therefore at times oppositional. It would be good if I could more often draw attention to the fact that separate lives are easier when you have a polygamous household. It is just not feasible between only two people unless you completely want to ignore each other most of the time.
In my experience the women often choose polygamy too. Why wouldn’t you when it means you do get to manage yourself quite independently of your husband and surround yourself with other women. If you keep your peace then your husband respects you and gives you freedom to make decisions without consulting him heavily, just informing him (this is our family example). When there is two people only you often find yourself discussing everything, analysing, mulling over.
Like Minna, I am not opposed to polygamy. There are many reasons for it and in my experience it’s mostly security and family. These days most of our friends in Ghana are choosing not to have polygamous relationships, or ‘perhaps just two’ as some say, but there is also less need to be polygamous due to advances in medicine and people living longer.
I have often watched a British show called Tribal Wives with some amusement and interest. The only episode which showed a place I could not go and live was with the Afar tribe in Ethiopia where conditions and treatment of women is so terribly harsh and unjust – the worst kind of FGM, beatings and very real oppression environmentally and culturally. I have seen though, for example with the Himba in Namibia, that polygamy can be great for women too.
When I am much older and I’ve had my children – if any more come along as we so dearly hope, I might just suggest my husband take a younger wife to help me do the chores and work to help us. I am the last in my family and I did not take my husband’s surname because of this. If I did then our branch of the family would cease to exist. This is something that is terribly sad for me and if I could do something about it by encouraging one of my uncles or my father to have another child I would do it. In Australia it is not culturall y appropriate or possible but in Ghana… our family would live on and that would be a great thing.