Towards the end of April 2022, Yul Edochie sparked a tense debate and controversy across Nigeria’s internet space. News broke out across several media outlets about his decision to take a second wife in marriage. While many were of the opinion that his action was wrong, some argued that he made the right decision.
Both marriages are not alien to youths because as one moves around the community, it is very common to find monogamous and polygamous marriages.
According to genetic studies, it is only relatively recently, about 10,000 years ago, that monogamy began to prevail over polygamy in human population. Monogamous unions may have developed in tandem with sedentary agriculture, helping to maintain land and property within the same narrow kin group9.
This essay seeks to define the terms polygamy and monogamy, state their advantages and disadvantages, list the types of polygamy and monogamy, explore their historical backgrounds and establish a position regarding the best option.
Definition of terms
Monogamy most technically refers to the state or practice of being married to only one person at a time. It is also commonly used in a more general way to refer to the state of being in a romantic or sexual relationship with only one person at a time. Less commonly, monogamy can mean the practice of being married only once throughout ones life2.
Polygamy on the other hand according to Merriam Webster dictionary is a marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time1.
Advantages of Monogamy
- It enhances complete faithfulness and trust
- Helps in building mutual confidence
- Eases training of children in a healthy and peaceful atmosphere
- To achieve intimate and oneness for two persons
- Encourages proper utilization of resources
- Lessens the chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases
- Easy to control such a family
- Lower rates of crime within the society
- Reduces household conflicts
- Encourages greater parental investment
- Partners have better immunity system
- Provides mental stability
- Increases access to paternity
- Inheritance issues are less3, 4,5,6,7.
Disadvantages of Monogamy
- Reduced variety
- Non-diversified decision making
- Less division of labour
- Reduction in population
- High likelihood of unfaithfulness due to only one avenue for sexual enjoyment
- Lack of children due to infertility or impotency
- Poor child socialization due to parent death
- Loneliness due to small family
- Low income
- Limited social support
- Spousal abuse
- May lead to closed family
- Leads to wastage of resources since there may be few mouths to consume
- Alienation due to gate keeping of family sphere
- Encourages laziness and laxity due to less competition8.
Advantages of Polygamy
- Satisfaction of more sexual appetites
- Signals high social status and class
- Ready source of labour from many children
- Provides sexual diversity
- Lower risk that people get bored in a marriage
- Bigger families imply more connection
- Expands gene pool
- Creates balance in women dominated regions
- Creates greater societal security
- Increased population encourages greater cumulative remunerations10.
Disadvantages of Polygamy
- Problematic from a legal perspective
- Can lead to jealousy
- Can be expensive to run
- Promotes gender inequality
- Creates household tension
- Spouses may be stuck in unhappy marriages
- Children may get neglected
- Spread of disease is common
- Inheritance issues are common
- Prone to domestic violence10.
Types of Monogamy
- Social- Can be defined as a long term or sequential living arrangement between an adult male and an adult female.
- Sexual- Occurs when two partners remain sexually exclusive with each other and having no outside partners.
- Genetic- Refers to two individuals who only reproduce with one another20.
Types of polygamy
- Polygyny- This is the specific form of polygamy where a man marries multiple wives. The term is most commonly used interchangeably with polygamy because it is the most common form of the concept.
- Polyandry- This is a less common form of polygamy. With polyandry, you find a woman marrying multiple men.
- Group marriage- As the term implies, occurs when several men and several women marry each other. This is a rarer form of polygamy.
- Polyamory- This is a type of relationship, where a person has multiple partners but one is married to each other. All partners typically know each other and are aware that they are in a polyamorous relationship18.
History of Polygamy
To trace the history of polygamy, one needs to survey different aspects of life like religion, carbon dating, anthropology, genetic research, and scientific studies to arrive at a logical conclusion.
*According to Christianity
“And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael:and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech. And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah and the name of the other Zillah. And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle. And his brothers name was Jubal: He was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah. And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt”. - Genesis: 4:18-23 KJV
From this Biblical account in the book of Genesis, the history of polygamy can be traced to a man named Lamech. Prior to his birth, all men on earth practiced monogamy. Things however changed when he decided to take up Adah and Zillah as his wives.
*According to Islam
“If you fear that you shall not be able to deal with the orphans, marry women of your choice , two, or three, or four, but if you fear that you shall not deal justly (with them), then only one, or that which your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice”- Chapter an-Nisal 3
Islam sets the condition of acting justly as a precondition for any man seeking to marry many wives. Monogamy is essential while polygamy is exceptional. Islam never made polygamy obligatory for anyone, nor did it encourage it. It is regarded permissible when there are some general or specific reasons19.
*According to Agriculture
The early man was the first to venture into agriculture. As he moved from place to place, he gathered fruits, which served as food. When the practice became unsustainable, he added hunting to the practice. With increasing population, he decided to start domesticating animals and plants. Due to the inability of the subsistence practice of domestication to cater for his economic needs, he started marrying more wives. The idea behind this was to increase his family size thereby, increasing labourers to plough the field and raise animals. As the wives gave birth to children, he had a large pool of children to work for him. This eventual breakthrough popularised the practice of polygamy for economic viability across the world11.
*According to wars and security quest
During the early existence of man, the population of a community was usually the determinant matrix or how secured a community would be. With wars and battles usual occurrences, men were encouraged to marry many wives in order to birth several children. In addition, in situations where many men die during a war, having more than one wife boosts the population most swiftly. The more wives a man had, the more military might and alliances he could forge11.
*According to Babel law
Hammurabi laws states that if a woman could not bear a child or had a serious disease, the husband could have a concubine19.
*According to Chinese law
If the wealth of the husband were sufficient, he could marry secondary wives. However, the children from the secondary wives were regarded as the children of the first wife19.
*According to Antique Brahmans
From the book vichnou, men could marry one, two, three or more women in accordance with their classes. In the book of Apastamba, there was a limit; if the woman carried out her task and she had a male child, the husband could not marry a second woman. In the laws of Manu, the husband had to choose his first wife from the same social class; he could marry a woman of lower classes as his second wife19.
*According to wealth creation and status
The economy of the then world depended upon agriculture but since the practice of monogamy unable to satisfy the labour needs for agricultural expansion and wealth creation, men began to marry more wives to satisfy these needs. Status during this era was also wrapped around the number of wives one had. Larger families then became a source of pride, while a smaller one was a symbol of failure and shame11.
*According to legality
The history of polygamy could be traced to the legal structure existing in a community. In South Africa, Egypt, Eritrea, Morocco, and Malaysia, it is legal for a man to marry more than one wife. In Iran and Libya however, a man is allowed to marry many wives provided there is a written consent from the first wife11.
*According to social strategy concept
Marrying widows under this practice was a social strategy for ensuring that orphans were cared for. The prophet Muhammed, who had a monogamous marriage for 25 years until his first wife died, married many of his other wives –nine in total because they were widows.
*According to anthropology
Jack Goody’s comparative study of marriage around the world utilizing the Ethnographic Atlas demonstrated a historical correlation between the practice of extensive shifting horticulture and polygamy in the majority of sub-Saharan African societies. Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that the sexual division of labour varies between the male dominated intensive plough agriculture common in Eurasia and the extensive shifting horticulture found in Sub-Saharan Africa. In some of the sparsely populated regions where shifting cultivation takes place in Africa, women do much of the work. This favours polygamous marriages in which men seek to monopolise the production of women “who are valued both as workers and as child bearers”. Goody however , observes that the correlation is imperfect and varied , and also discusses more traditionally male dominated though relatively extensive farming systems such as those traditionally common in much of West Africa, where more agricultural work is done by men, and where polygyny is desired by men more for the generation of male offspring whose labour is valued12.
History of monogamy
Monogamy, which is the practice of having one spouse, has long been in existence.
*According to Christianity
“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam, there was not found a help meet for him. And the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed”. - Genesis: 2:20-25 KJV
From the Biblical account above, the history of monogamy can be traced to the period when God joined Adam (first living man) and Eve (first living woman) in marriage. The words “her”, “a woman”, “both” in the bible passage clearly illustrates that only two parties were involved in this marriage.
*According to Islam
The history of monogamy can be traced to prophet Muhammad. Being an orphan, he was carried along by Abu Talib for trade along the Mecca-Damascus trade route. On his numerous trips in service of the richer caravan of the wealthy aristocrat, Khadija the daughter Khuwaylid of the clan of Assad of the tribe of Quraysh. By that time, the reputation of the young Muhammad, notably of honesty, selflessness and truthfulness, went before him throughout the city of Mecca and among the Quraysh of Arabia. With such virtues rare in pre-Islamic Arabia, Khadija, his employer soon noticed these qualities and desired his companionship for life. At the time of their marriage, Khadija the bride was 40 years and Muhammad the groom was 25 years. The union was one of unconditional love, which shattered artificial social barriers of differences in age, social status and material endowments. The Sunnah of monogamy was clearly established by Muhammad in his first marriage to Khadija his longest and most fruitful marriage17.
*According to ancient societies
Historical records shows that monogamy existed among many ancient societies. Laura Betzig argues that in the six large, highly stratified early states, commoners were generally monogamous but that elites practiced de facto polygyny. Such states included Mesopotamia, Egypt, Aztec, Mexico, Inca Peru, India and China13
*According to tribal societies
This marriage appeared in some traditional tribal societies such as the Andamanese, Karen in Burma, Sami and Ket in northern Eurasia, and the Pueblo Indians of the United states, apparently unrelated to the development of the Judeo-Christian monogamous paradigm14.
*According to contemporary international societies
Western European societies established monogamy as their marital norm15. Monogamous marriage is normative and is legally enforced in most developed countries16. Laws prohibiting polygyny were adopted in Japan (1880), China (1953), India (1955) and Nepal (1963)16.
As human beings, we are free moral agents; everyone is permitted to make choices provided such a choice is favourable. In the event of a fallout, such a person is expected to bear the consequences. After exploring monogamy and polygamy through this essay, I discovered that both marriages were laden with advantages and disadvantages. Critical and logical analysis reveals that with the advent of technology, monogamy’s benefits outweighs those of polygamy. I therefore counsel all my readers to find a unique soulmate with whom he or she can stick with in love to enjoy life and fulfil purpose on earth. However, the choice is yours to make.
- https://theconversation.com/society-wide-benefits-of -monogamous-marriage-6908
- www.coursehero.com/file/p19t1e1i/disadvantages-of-monogamy-decision-making-is-not diversified-high-likelihood-of/
- https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/the-big-question-what-s-the-history-of-polygamy-and -how-serious-a-problem-is-it-in-africa-1858858
- Goody, Jack (1974). “Polygyny, Economy and the Role of women”. The character of kinship .Cambridge University press. Pp.175-190
- Bettzig, Laura (1993). “Sex, succession, and stratification in the first six civilizations: How powerful men reproduced, passed power onto their sons, and used power to defend their wealth, women and children”. In Lee, Ellis(Ed.) Social stratification and socio economic inequality vol.1 Westport CT: praeger .pp 37-74
- The Ethnographic Atlas, George P. Murdock
- MacDonald K. The establishment and maintenance of socially imposed monogamy in Western Europe Archived 2020-10-02 at the Wayback Machine. Politics life sci. 1995,14, 3-23
- Henrich J, Boyd R, Richerson PJ (2012). “The puzzle of monogamous marriage”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological sciences 367 (1589):657-69.