{Benin City, Nigeria Local Time}
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By Francis Ewherido17/08/2017

When you throw a pebble into water, ripples are inevitable and when the matter dropping into water is of much weight, falling from a great height, you can expect a great wave.

That is what the US Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage did and we have not seen the end of the ripples yet. But one of the immediate fallouts was the call by groups in the US for the legalization of polygamy.

But the call, like that of same-sex marriage three decades ago in the US, is falling on deaf ears for now. But it might come to pass some day. After all “America is a free society and the custodian of democratic values.” Already some Americans practice polygamy, even though they risk falling on the wrong side of the law on charges of bigamy. Some Americans practice polygyny, where a man has more than one wife simultaneously. Some Americans practice polyandry, where a woman has more than one husband at the same time. Some American religious groups practice group marriage, where the family unit consists of multiple husbands and multiple wives.

For all you care, polygamy might just be one of the solutions to America’s high divorce rate. One of the reasons women give for seeking divorce is infidelity. So all the men need to do is marry these women they are cheating with and remove cheating as a basis for seeking divorce. Just kidding.

Polygamy is an uncomfortable topic for the average American, but we are at home with it here in Africa, even though some of us neither believe in it nor practice it. It is indigenous to us, our fore fathers were polygamous; some of us are still polygamists. Our Muslim brothers practice polygamy. Some Christian denominations practice polygamy. They do not believe in the doctrine of one man, one wife and will quote the Bible and use King Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3) to buttress their position (that is a story for another day).

Africans practice polygamy for cultural and religious reasons. For some others, it is a status symbol and sign of affluence. Sometimes polygamy is based on erroneous beliefs. In the 70s, my paternal aunt visited. Somewhere along the line, she asked my father when he was taking a second wife. My father told her he had no such plans. She exploded: “Ayo’vo hw’osho!( meaning having only one wife can lead to impotency).
Some people became polygamists because their first wives did not bear children (“early enough”). They marry second wives and some bring them under the same roof with the first wives. In many cases, they just gave the first wife a foretaste of hell. Ordinarily childlessness is very difficult for many women to handle. No matter how much they try to conceal it, you see the agony. Sometimes you meet a cheerful woman even for the first time; if you look beyond the cheerfulness, you see pain. Scratch a little and it is childlessness.

To now put her up with another woman who will remind her of her situation 24/7 is not cool at all. Many of these second wives are not magnanimous in “victory.” They rub it in with every available opportunity and create such opportunities when none exists. If any husband still loves and respects his first wife, the minimum he can do is have two homes, one each for the two wives, unless the first wife encouraged him to marry the second wife. But didn’t Sarah do a U-turn after encouraging Abraham to have Hagar, her maid? (Gen. 16:1-4; 21:10)

I had some very interesting experiences about polygamy in my younger days. A few polygamists lived nearby, while some of them were relatives. They had their amebos (favourite wives) and avwiorovwes (least favoured or hated wives). Normally the wives took turns to take care (cook and man, or is it woman, the bedroom) of their husbands. An amebo could woman the bedroom six times over a period of three months and the avwiorovwe will be lucky to have one chance. I still remember how one particular avwiorovwe would happily run to my mum to announce that she would be the next to woman the bedroom. For amebos it was no big deal.

For every five wrappers an amebo got, the avwiorovwe would be lucky to get one. An amebo’s son could get away with murder, but both avwiorovwe and her son would be hanged for misdemeanor. Fights were common and the sons of the avwiorovwes were somehow stronger because they had been toughened by the treatment meted out to their mothers which cascaded down to them. So they, and by extension their mothers, always got into trouble. My mother went on a few peace missions.

A childless amebo was consoled and spoiled with gifts and constant reassurances of the husband’s undying love. Her turns to woman the bedroom were increased to improve her chances of conception, but a childless avwiorovwe was dead on arrival. She was an outcast and a request to be given a chance to woman the bedroom to increase her chances of conception was met with the question: “Where are the results of all the ones I have been doing?”

In many cases, polygamy was a sign of wealth in those days, so many of these polygamists sent all their children to school( It didn’t matter that an amebo’s son could be given five kobo every day while the son of an avwiorovwe got two kobo or nothing for food during break). Many children of avwiorovwes took the opportunity of education and they are some of the movers and shakers of the society you see today. For others, the unfavourable treatment meted out to their mothers got to them and derailed them. Some of the children of the amebos were pampered and got messed up in the process; but some took advantage of the favouritism and gained momentum from there. Those were interesting times. Looking back, it all looks like a fairytale.

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