Discussing topical issues for women in cross-cultural and inter-continental relationships

Polygamy in the family – Part 2

Looking at the stats of this site I have seen that my post on polygamy, here, has been one of the most popular. It seems it’s a topic many people think about or want to investigate.

In my experience there seem to be two attitudes towards polygamy: one is open to the idea and the other is against. In the West/Middle East/parts of Asia, that I am aware of, polygamy is mostly associated with religious groups and the general social perception of patriarchy is more to do with dominance and sexuality, however correct or incorrect that may be.  In Africa polygamy, particularly in my experiences in Ghana and Kenya, is perceived as a cultural tradition of previous generations and ancestors and not practiced so widely today unless you are extremely tradtional out in the villages, or extremely wealthy and powerful.

Here is one woman’s example of how polygamy entered her life from an Islamist perspective within a cross-cultural relationship. Here is a man’s perspective on polygamy in Africa, and I must say the comments are just as interesting as the article itself.

Polygamy seems to be dying out in general but is there still a need for it?

Here are two points I continue to agree with:

  1. To enter into a polygamous/polyandrous relationship without consent from your first partner is reinforcing the fact that your reasons are sexual or patriarchal/matriarchal in the sense of dominance/power.
  2. Consensual polygamous relationships have less to do with sex and power than they do with family.

One thing that point two makes me think of is the loneliness that can come from living in a small, rural town with my nuclear family in Australia. What I adore about Ghana is my connectedness to all around me and my ability, and my right, to connect myself with every sister, every brother, every daughter and son, mother, father and so on. Australia doesn’t have this for me, my nuclear family growing up is three and the nuclear family I am creating in my household now is four, about to be five. The burden on me to ‘be in charge’ of the kids and the household, whilst working full-time, is a harsh reality of life and leaves very little energy for anything else. If I could share that burden with a sense of equality and connectedness I just might consider it.

Perhaps the difference, as I read in the Polygamy911 blog, linked above, is that in that example the lives of the wives were kept separate. My experiences in Ghana is that each wife creates a larger household and it is a connected family that co-exists.

My mothers did argue in their heyday, when the four, then three, of them were all in the house together. There were jealousies and disagreements. However, there were also interventions during arguments. If a wife had a problem with Baba then their sister would sit them down and talk with them until they calmed down, would let her sleep in her room for a few nights until she was ready to go back to her own room, would provide her with support until there was peace. You cannot force someone to do these things if they are not accepting of their situation. Whilst Frafra culture is so very patriarchal, it is clear these women have a bond to each other that only they can share, the husband cannot enter that space. It is for women only.

I will sum up this latest post by saying that my opinion has not changed so much from my last post, written last year. I still think polygamy has a place if it is chosen by all parties involved. I think there can be great benefits if the relationships are carefully crafted and nurtured and the people involved hold similar minds and values. I think to get waylaid by issues of jealousy, petty rivalries and sex are to deny human nature. It is inevitable there will be moments of those emotions but what is important is how they are dealt with. In polygamous households those issues are not just for the husband, or the first wife, to deal with alone. It becomes everybody’s issue and that is where the concept of the larger family unit comes into play.

Alagnii young

My mother, Alagnii, wife No. 2, mother of 8. I so wish she was still alive because I believe we would be so close and she would be very firm with me, teaching me tradition and values. This would have been wonderful for my daughter, her namesake, through whom she has returned. I could have learned so much seeing them all together in the household, living daily life. I did when living there for those years but Alagnii was not there. I think Alagnii is so beautiful and my daughter really looks like her. I think I will write a post containing all the stories I know about her one day soon.


Baba and wives outside houseBaba, sitting, next to wife no. 4, both holding grandchildren. Standing, from the left, is my late sister, child no. 5 out of 8 from Alagnii, Baba’s brother and Alagnii, a little older now, mother to my husband. Alagnii and wife no. 4 were indirect sisters from a village near our town.


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