The Relevance of Polygamy for the Contemporary African

Picture Credit: FranchiseKing

Stipulating that a man does not need the consent of a woman when he wants to get an additional wife as has been done in the Marriage Bill is a singling out aspects of African culture in a way that promotes misogyny. Mind you, in the African setting, there would be no second wife without the first wife’s approval. Why single out polygamy? Why can’t these same fellows embrace customary law in its totality. Who gets to interpret customary law anyway? What about those who prefer to have a customary marriage as well as a Christian marriage. Can’t I have a ruracio as a pre-cursor to a Christian wedding as well? What if I have both? Which one reigns supreme? Are customary marriages the same as they were ages ago? If marriage is a religious affair, why is it the government’s business which kind of marriage a Kenyan chooses?

The Purpose of Polygamy

While for our forefathers polygamy was encouraged in order to beget many children and afford the woman a helper, our contemporaries seem to be more keen on acquiring women to prove their masculinity and prove their dominance over women. How many men are wealthy and responsible enough to actually take on additional wives and sire many children? Most would not get a second wife because they know the responsibilities that come with having additional wives and children in the current economic climate. Why polygamy then? Some may just want to add trophies to their collections.

Cultural Heritage for What?

The question here is not whether men need consent to get additional wives but whether polygamy is really relevant for us today. Aren’t majority of Kenyans Christians who profess monogamy? While it is important to preserve our cultural heritage, we have to reflect on whether some practices add value to our society or not. As Kenyans who are capable of reasoning, we cannot afford to cling to traditions that do not add any value to us. Like every progressive society, we have to sit down and reflect on why our ancestors did what they did; we also have to find the meaning behind cultural practices and seek alternative ways to express it. Our forefathers reflected on life and found ways that served them and their societies best at that time. They were also capable of doing away with practices that no longer served the society positively. Culture is dynamic, adopting itself to preserving society for the long-term and rather than bury our heads in the sand and use culture as it suits us best, we should be honest and retain what is of good value to society. Otherwise we will be like politicians who use the communitarian aspect of African culture to promote negative ethnicity to divide Kenyans and those who cite woman to woman[1]marriages to defend homosexuality. Now we want to use customary law to justify misogyny. Pan-Africanism is more than picking out aspects of it and misinterpreting them to serve our selfish interests. We can defend our interests using other means but not by twisting African culture. Ironically, while we champion the preservation of African culture we barely bother to learn about its moral aspects and the penalties that went with breaking customary law. There is not only one customary law in Kenya. There are 47 tribes as well as sub-tribes with their own unique customary laws and not all may tally with the Marriage bill’s requirement of seeking no consent from the woman when getting an additional wife. As many Kenyans adopt Christianity and other religions, African culture in its dynamism should not be left static; it should accommodate the changing landscape in ways that contribute to the preservation and thriving of the Kenyan society as a whole. It should be flexible enough to accept monogamous unions. After all, we have been flexible enough to accept modern clothing, alternative foods and ways of doing things. The enforcement of practices of African culture whose meaning we have bothered not to understand will only serve to further draw away Africans from their cultural heritage. It is like telling Kenyans that their culture may not be compatible with other religions and one has to choose between the two as customary law cannot guarantee one a monogamous union. It does not have to be that way.

[1] This kind of marriage was an arrangement for barren women to have children. There was no attraction or sexual relations between the two women.

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