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Reasons for Polygamy in Africa: Why the Practice Still Persists


There are peculiar reasons for polygamy in Africa you might be familiar with. Polygamy is acceptable in many African societies, communities, and traditions as a form of wealth, power, and social status.

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Polygamy is a practice where a man has two or more wives.  In some chieftaincy traditions, a chief or king is required to marry many wives. The same is notable among some religions, like Islam. 

While there are several reasons for polygamy in Africa, we want to discuss the top eight.  

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8 Reasons for Polygamy in Africa

Cultural Beliefs

Many African cultures, especially on the northern side, embrace polygamy. The phenomenon is deeply rooted in the longstanding traditions, cultures, and customs of Africa. Among the top reasons for polygamy in Africa is to reproduce to expand family lineage. 

Many believe having many children is a form of wealth, as the children will grow up to care for their parents. This can only be possible with multiple wives.

Others believe polygamy is part of African culture. And like other cultures in Africa, polygamy is practiced to preserve it.

Financial and Social Status

Taking care of someone is work, especially financially. Years ago, when women were required to stay home, do minimal work in the backyard garden, and take care of their children, men were the breadwinners and decision-makers. 

The more a man earns, the more he can make decisions concerning his family. A man can take multiple wives if he has the financial ability to provide for them. Such men are socially regarded as wealthy. 

Among the reasons for polygamy in Africa is that, men marry more wives to bear more children to tend to the flocks and help on the farm, thereby increasing trade and financial results. 

Fertility and Large Family

With a high fertility rate in Africa, many people want large families. However, life happens. Some women may have birth complications and may not be able to have more babies. Others may not be able to conceive at all. 

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This issue may originate from either a husband or wife, or both. But mostly, the situation is pinned on women. To address the situation, men marry more wives to have more children. 

Communal Support

Despite the challenges of polygamy, large families support one another in various ways. Support can include taking care of a new mother and the baby, house chores, and nurturing children. This creates a community of support. 

Gender Imbalance

The ratio of women to men is imbalanced in many societies across the world. In situations where women are disproportionately more than men and men have a higher mortality rate, polygamy is acceptable. This solution is to ensure every woman has the opportunity to marry and experience care and love. 

Religious Beliefs

Another reason for polygamy in Africa is that the practice is justified by religion. Islam glorifies polygamy and allows men to marry up to four wives. Although not all Muslim men have more than two to three wives, the practice is highly acceptable. 

These religious beliefs about polygamy are based on the premise men will avoid cheating on their wives if they have multiple wives. In other words, a man could marry a woman he likes and bring her home rather than have a secret affair even though he’s married.

Power and Influence

In some African kingdoms, kings, chiefs, and influential men were allowed to have wives as a sign of power and influence. Thus, if you hold a higher leadership position, traditionally, you’re obligated to marry more wives and have many male children to carry on the kingship.  

Personal Choice

Polygamy is a personal choice among some Africans. In such a situation, money as a factor still stands. This is because a man should be able to provide for his wife and children. 

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The practice of polygamy is changing with the influence of education, gender roles, and modernity. While some African countries still practice it, globalization and the assimilation of cultures continue to influence deep-rooted traditional perceptions. 

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Sedi Djentuh
Sedi Djentuh
Hey, Sedi here, a content writer. She's fascinated by the interplay between people, lifestyle, relationships, tech and communication dedicated to empowering and spreading positive messages about humanity. She's an avid reader and a student of personal weekly workouts. When she's not writing, Sedi is busy advocating for plastic-free earth with her local NGO.


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