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

 iii) The defects of polygyny

Just as it is said that no system of government, is necessarily the best, so also it can be said that all things being equal, no system of marriage is necessarily the best. Monogamy is the prevalent institution in many parts of the world, but this does not mean it has not got its defects. In fact monogamy is a lofty ideal to be aspired to, but its practice is so imperfect that at times it would seem better to legalise polygyny. This is a speculation

The point we are making is that monogamy in practice is equally full of many defects and scandals in the world of today, while in principle it is a lofty ideal. The polygynous system can lead to the economic exploitation of women, that is, by reducing them to mere tillers of the soil, fetchers of water and hewers of wood. In the case of harem polygyny, the woman can be reduced to the man’s pleasure object, things that are destined to the satisfaction of his sexual urge. Furthermore, it does sometimes happen that the women are too many for one man to cope with, so that, they of necessity have to seek lovers outside the family. Socially it may at times not be to the best interests of the woman. According to certain cultures the other wives of the polygynous household, are subordinate not only to the husband but also to the ‘chief wife’. Being a second wife has other disadvantages. For instance, the co-wives are not admitted to baptism as long as their husbands is alive and cohabits with them. This creates a highly embarrassing situation, not only for the priest and his assistants, but also for the women who after attending catechism in preparation for baptism, often get the apology , “Sorry madam,1 I can not baptise you, it is against the law of the church”. In fact many Igbo women still find themselves in this awkward predicament. In this way, polygyny holds back the forward march of evangelisation among many peoples of Africa. Now we come to the maintenance of the family. In general, only the well-to-do are expected to take more than one wife. But it does often happen that people who began life rich end up in stark poverty. This is worse in a polygynous household, where there will be too many mouths to feed but very little output due to the fact that the man and his wives must have grown old or at times are suffered from prolonged unemployment. We have already said that the women of a polygynous household cohabit peacefully, and this is true in most of the cases I have personally observed. However I have to add here that this amicable cohabitation always presupposes the existence i n that family of a fair amount of wealth and contentment. Many a time children from polygynous household show signs of incomplete parental upbringing, especially on their father’s side. Today for instance, it would cost ten times normal to keep the polygynous household and to educate the children. 

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