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Polygyny

.. force. The senior wife is responsible for producing the agricultural wealth of the household, and if her warrior husband is absent or preoccupied for long periods of time, it is she who often functions as the effective head of household. Even though a husband may marry younger, more beautiful wives, he continues to regard his “big wife” with great respect and consideration (Rosaldo). In Mende, the head wife in a large polygynous household is given much religious as well as economic power.

She organizes the agricultural work force, and stores and markets economic surpluses. Because of these roles, Mende head wives are seen as authority figures, and occasionally a chiefs head wife will succeed him in office even though she resides virilocally in his chiefdom and has no genealogical right to rule in the village of his kin (Tucker). Jealousy, while not an inevitable consequence of polygyny, is reported in many polygynous societies. Tension is common when women are competing for goods and services from the husband and since each wife attempts to build a uterine family at the expense of her co-wives children (Rosaldo). Among the Kanuri of Bornu (part of a centralized Muslim state), women are married very young, often to middle-aged men.

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A womans ability to control a husbands dominance depends on her ability to withdraw food and sexual services. A second wife is a considerable threat to her, resulting in less attention for her as well as for her children, and she loses some of her ability to gain compliance from her husband. However, Malinowski (1962) notes that jealousy among cowives is more a rivalry to secure maximum access to resources for themselves and their offspring than sexual jealousy. To minimize this conflict among cowives, a set of rules is often established that specifies responsibilities and rights concerning sex, economics, and personal possessions. A Patani man follows a prescribed order of sleeping with each of his wives, as does the Korokorosei husband, but the women differ in the scheduling of their domestic responsibilities to him. A Patani woman cooks and cares for her husband only when it is her turn to sleep with him.

A Korokorosei woman must cook for her husband every day and perform domestic tasks for him whenever he asks. The presence of associations in Patani assists a woman in coping with difficulties in her co-wife relationships. The Korokorosei woman must resolve her own problems (Priso). In group families the predominant themes is not swinging sex, however, the “swinging” label still may persist in areas where polygyny is not so common. A fundamental problem with parenting in such groups stems from the social stigma attached to “deviant” life-styles.

There are obvious difficulties in raising children in a social environment so extensively criticized or condemned, especially when the parents realize that their children may grow up alienated either from them or from the mainstream culture to which they eventually will be called on to adapt (Sayres). Children in polygynous unions may be reared primarily by their mother, under the supervision of the senior cowife, or jointly with a system of rotation. Because the economic claims that many cowives make on their husbands are on behalf of their children, one of the advantages of occupying the position of senior wife is that the position carries with it preferential treatment for the offspring. The notion that mothers in polygynous unions develop extraordinary close ties with their children because of the fathers absence is not supported (Tucker). Although an African husband can expect to have his wife or wives supporting themselves and working for him, he has very little claim to his children.

Female farming and polygyny are nearly always coupled with “matrilineal descent,” meaning that heritage is traced only through the mothers line. Often children bear their mothers name. The result is that marriages are relatively transient and divorce is common. In African divorce, the husband obtains certain domestic and sexual services from the wife, but her other loyalties and her offspring always belong to her lineage (meaning her natal family). If there is divorce, the lineage will care for her and her children.

She is not “absorbed” into her husbands lineage. In Stanleyville (the Congo), well over half of those who had been married had also been divorced. According to one calculation, Hausa women (in Nigeria) average about three marriages between puberty and menopause. Eight out of ten persons over 40 years of age in a Yao village (Nyasaland) were found to have been divorced. In the Voltaic group of the Mossi, men who have migrated to neighboring Ghana may establish households with the Ashanti women but avoid marriage because the Ashanti matrilineal descent pattern would not let them take their own children back with them. In patrilineal or “dual descent” societies, by contrast, marriages are stable.

Illegitimacy is also regarded differently since children belong to the mothers line anyway. Early illegitimacy can even have a positive aspect, since it proves fertility. (Malinowski 1962) Some believe that polygyny is linked with HIV and Hepatitis C. In places like Rwanda and Burundi, polygyny decreases infection by allowing women for whom there are not enough available marriageable mates (due to war, violence, imprisonment, etc.) to be married to the few available marriageable men and be sexually fulfilled without having to find sex promiscuously or turning to prostitution to find fulfillment or support themselves. Those who keep their sexual and body fluid activities within their bonded polygynous marriages do not spread or acquire HIV. The false hope placed in condoms (which have a 20% one-out-of-five failure rate according to the FDA and our Public Health Depts.) results in far more deaths from these diseases than such deaths from polygyny (Sayres).

Although antecedents to the occurrence and maintenance of polygyny vary from society to society, ideology and customs develop once polygyny is adopted that contribute to its perpetuation long after the original reason for the practice disappears. In traditional societies that have encouraged plural marriages in the past, however, the trend is moving toward monogamy. In some cases, this movement occurs in stages, and in other cases, polygyny is permitted but discouraged by recognizing the first marriage as legal and relegating additional wives to the status of concubines. The explanation most commonly advanced for this movement away from polygyny is that monogamy is more compatible with industrialization (Benson 1971). Of course, the role of ideology and the banning of polygyny must also be considered as factors contributing to the decline of the practice.

Some American men take the position that monogamy protects the rights of women. However, are these men concerned with liberation movements from the suffragists of the early twentieth century to the feminists of today? The truth of the matter is that monogamy protects men, allowing them to “play around” without responsibility. Easy birth control and easy legal abortion has opened the door of illicit sex to woman and she has been lured into the so-called sexual revolution. Nevertheless, she is still the one who suffers the trauma of abortion and the side effects of the birth control methods. Taking aside the plagues of venereal diseases, herpes and AIDS, the male continues to enjoy himself free of worry. Men are the ones protected by monogamy while women continue to be victims of mens desires.

Polygyny is very much opposed by the male dominated society because it forces men to face up to responsibility and fidelity. It forces them to take responsibility for their polygynous inclinations, and protects and provides for women and children. The bottom line in the marriage relationship is good morality and happiness, creating a just and cohesive society where the needs of men and women are well taken care of. The present Western society, which permits free sex between consenting adults, has give rise to an abundance of irresponsible sexual relationships, an abundance of”fatherless” children, many unmarried teenage mothers; all becoming a burden on the countrys welfare system. In part, such an undesirable welfare burden has given rise to a bloated budget deficit, which even an economically powerful country like the United States cannot accommodate. We find that artificially established monogamy had become a factor in ruining the family structure, and the social, economic, and political systems in this country. Polygyny has been practiced by mankind throughout the world for thousands of years.

It has been proven advantageous economically and politically for both males and females. Having other cowives lets women share the economic and domestic responsibilities of the household, it allows independence from the husband, and also the freedom from fulfilling constant sexual needs of the male. In some cases, polygyny allows women to achieve a higher status within her community that she normally could not achieve in a monogamous relationship. Polygamous relationships serve as an alternative to single loneliness, fatherless children, and increasing violence and juvenile crime in families where the father has left. Polygyny has proven itself to be an advantage to a host of societies and cultures. Bibliography Benson, Leonard 1971: The Family Bond: Marriage, Love, and Sex in America.

New York: Random House. Malinowski, Bronislaw 1962: Sex, Culture, and Myth. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc. Murdock, G. 1957: American Anthropologist: World Ethnographic Sample.

59: 664-687. Pasternak, Burton 1976: Introduction to Kinship & Social Organization. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc. Priso, Manga In press Unesco Courier: Lines of Descent. Chicago: Oakview, Inc.

Rosaldo, Michelle Zimbalist 1974: Woman, Culture, & Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Sayres, William In press The World & I: What Is a Family Anyway. Washington: Washington Times Corp. Tucker, William In press National Review: All in the Family.

New York: National Review Press. Whiting, J. In press In Explorations in Culture Anthropology: Effects of Climate on Certain Cultural Anthropology. New York: McGraw Hill.

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