Relationships

Marriage among the Igbo of Nigeria By :Celestine A. Obi

 ii) The general attitude of Igbo women towards polygyny?

One of the arguments usually adduced against polygyny is that it implies a disregard for the feelings of women. However this may not be applied in the case of the Igbos and many other peoples who are ‘polygynous. The jealousy of co-wives is said to be engendered but this is denied in the case of the Ashanti and some other African peoples as well as for New Guinea, Australia, also the Eskimos and then the Kaffirs. As a rule, the jealousy of co-wives is not the characteristic of Igbo polygyny. Granted that women in polygynous families at times quarrel, but bickering between women who live and work together can not be avoided no matter whatever their relation to one another. The regularity and gravity of these largely depend on the wives’ level of education and the man’s ability to rule the large household. An Eskimo wife, asked why her husband married another wife, answered: ‘1 asked him myself, for I am tired of bearing children’. This mentality is also found among the Igbos as we have already shown. It does not however mean that the Igbo wife’s value is set on bearing children alone, but rather that the Igbo love for children is so deep and extensive that the first wife would want children in that family, even if she herself was not a mother. Polygyny also settled sexual difficulties as Dr. Westermarck explained. In the past, the Igbo and Lango custom of not weaning a child till after three years, which went hand-in-hand with that of non-cohabitation between husband and wife although the three years created a great sexual problem especially for the man. The solution was found, not in going against this custom but taking another wife. However Miss Kingsley’s assertion that “West African women do not care a ‘tinker’s curse’ about the relations of their husband, with other women, provided he does not waste on them the cloth, etc., which they regard as their perquisite, could not be applied to the Igbo polygynous family. Moreover, in our submission, the statement is too sweeping and at bottom, a complete misrepresentation of the actual situation. This is because, the fact that polygyny is accepted among a people does not necessarily mean that their sexual morality is low. Polygyny well understood and as it exists among Igbos is as distinct from promiscuity as darkness is from daylight. In short the Igbo woman is well reconciled to the idea of polygyny. Where there were many wives often there were also many children and so an assured hope of a most resounding second funeral ceremony – an honour which pagan parents so much cherished and looked up to. Where it is difficult to obtain a husband, polygyny creates a situation that will make it possible for many more women to be absorbed into the married state. In fact, women in a polygynous household are usually on good terms. They give help to one another and bring about the better organisation of the household. Consequently, it can be said that in the past, polygyny was in its zenith among the Igbo where affluence existed and where the desire for a large family was strongest. Today however, a change of attitude may be noticed among the Igbo women. As an informant told me, it takes more time, more money, more anxiety to bring up children today than it did in the past. It will not do, merely to brine children into the world, there must be some notable assurance of being able to educate them. Moreover the Christian religion which has thrived in lgboland teaches that true marriage is monogamous and that polygyny must be abandoned. Therefore the present change of attitude towards polygyny is not merely due to the defects inherent in polygyny as such, but also due to contact with the western civilisation, the emphasis on higher education and higher standard of living and the impact of the Christian religion. 


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