My parents were both born into polygamous homes, different types I must add. My paternal grandfather, Papa, had 19 (acknowledged) biological children. I didn’t even know this until I read a preserved copy of his obituary. Up until my late childhood years, I thought the 19 children were all born of my feisty grandmother’s womb. They were an eccentric bunch packed with a bizarre degree of domestic flaws. For the most part, they are still that way. As far as I recall Papa’s obituary didn’t make mention of any wife. I assumed my extended family unanimously agreed to that as a way of stripping Papa’s wives and concubines of any property claims. I was just glad I could actually picture them agreeing to something, however petty.
So you might understand why, during one of my wedding website prowls, a certain bride came off to me as unrealistic and in denial. On her wedding website she introduced herself as a product of the “best polygamous family”. She wrote:
“…Between my biological parents, I have 5 siblings, but growing up in the best polygamous family I have 23 siblings…”
Needless to say, I didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about. My mental images of polygamous homes are structured like war zones where each wife barricades her food and other allocated resources from the reach of ‘the others’. In fact, I think ‘Fuji House of Commotion’ might have been one of my untapped imaginary masterpieces. To me, ‘Polygamy’ and ‘Joy’ are well known arch-enemies.
I know our society has a few shining examples of ‘happy’ polygamous homes, but I have always disputed their claims, even if from now till eternity, they all wear the same aso-ebi to every event. I am convinced it is all a “show” to entertain ready spectators. I just cannot imagine a woman sincerely approving another woman’s free pass to her husband’s inner chamber. Tufiakwa! Chukwu gbopulu anyi ajo ife ……God keep such evil away from us.
It doesn’t even help that 13 years later, I still remember that look on Nedu’s face; that look of pure irritation. She always knew her father was a “runs” man, but she fumed when the man selling gas cylinders asked her to greet her mum, adding that he saw Nedu’s mum drive by the day before. Na so. The day before indeed! We were visiting her dad in Abuja where he worked and Nedu’s mum lived in Lagos full-time.
I cannot but mention the Gbadebos*. We grew up together, but just when I got used to describing Jibola as the baby of the house, their “visiting cousins” suddenly became half-brothers and sisters. Apparently their father had secretly started a family with another woman and built her a home elsewhere. All hell broke loose when Jibola’s mum found out. It took her many years to accept them as her husband’s children, talk less of allowing them into her matrimonial home. What can I say? At least she didn’t find out about them at his funeral. Some women have had to swallow that much deceit.
So amidst the norm that proves the absence of joy in polygamy, I have been searching for reasons to believe otherwise. This feminist era hasn’t helped my search at all as it seems today’s woman would rather escape such matrimonial misfortune than share cooking schedules. A friend of mine from a (small) polygamous family blurted out an absolute “NO!” to the assumption that there’s joy in such mayhem. She said there might be more peace than usual in cases where the first wife could not have children and approved the marriage to the second wife. But I’m still dissatisfied with that reason. In fact my frame of mind has been further polluted with unfounded worries that another friend’s husband could possibly surprise her with a junior wife as their religion allows. Then all her fervent claims of having the modern Muslim man will evaporate into thin air and she will join the other modern-women-escapees. You can see my pain with polygamy is multi-faceted. I even think there is a new-age type of polygamy in our society!
Where in Nigeria is that website bride from??? I hope she reads this and answers my question. What joy is there in polygamy that could possibly make her describe hers as the “best…..”? All I truly know are the sad memories engraved in the lives affected and the never-ending accusations of household wickedness.
As children from polygamous families mature, the conflict lines may wear off as they gradually accept the circumstances as they have always known them to be. Some get closer, others grow further apart. But only the primary parties involved can truthfully tell you the bitter tales that destroyed what once was. They can pull a solid front to fool you and me, but I strongly believe that EVERY polygamous home, “best” or otherwise, is rooted in the carcass of at least one broken heart.
To my future husband:
In matters even remotely similar to polygamy, I, your gentle dove, will become nothing less than the outcome of a genetic transmutation between an unforgiving goose and a raging lioness. So let’s not even go there.
photo credit: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images