Polygamy in Different Cultures

In most of the Christian world, polygamy is steadily becoming an obsolete social practice. As modern society continuously develops certain “universal” norms, polygamous cultures are being driven further into extinction. Many Christian religions, including the once liberal Protestant sects, have slowly evolved into a stricter monogamous ideal, probably due in part to the growing complexities of society, civil rights and legal systems. It is no longer pragmatic, in the face of today’s modern consciousness, as well as the various economic crises, to encourage the complicated and potentially destructive practice of obtaining polygamous marriages.

Apart from this general rule that is slowly being formed in today’s civilized world, there are some cultures that continue to propagate the teachings involving polygamy. The more fundamental offshoots of the Mormon Church, for one, openly indulge in polygamous marriages until the present time. The Church of the Latter Day Saints used to cohesively espouse polygamous ideals as having basis in the bible. In fact they made a declaration of this ideology in 1852 and continued with the custom until just before 1890, at which time they finally denounced the practice. However, some of the more adamant members of the sect continue to practice it regardless of the Mormon’s threat of excommunication.

Aside from the Mormons, the Jewish community also has to contend with continuous polygamous practices even after most of their sects have banned them. The problem lies mainly in the fact that many Jewish families who are residents of Muslim predominated societies, commonly enter into polygamous marriages. Muslims, on the other hand, follow a strict rule that only men who can provide adequately for his families may take more wives. Moreover, while polygamy is permitted as long as the husband exercises fairness in dealing with his wives, some still believe monogamy to be the preferable type of marriage for Muslims. Muslims residents of India are also permitted to have polygamous marriages even if Hinduism has discontinued its practice. In the ancient times, Hinduism tolerated polygamy, but the practice itself was usually concentrated on those of royal blood.

In many African cultures, polygamy is still being practiced to this date. However, more and more African countries are rethinking the correctness of the custom in the face the increasing density of their populations and the rapid spread of HIV. The custom used to be widely practiced in Africa because of several reasons. Firstly, polygamy was once advisable because of the high infant mortality rate and the relatively short life spans of both men and women. Moreover, since agriculture was a key aspect of society and men were scarcer than women, the idea of having more wives to breed more children seemed like the ideal solution to manpower problems in the farm. Another reason for polygamy in Africa is the fact that a man’s social status was determined not only by the number of possessions and material wealth, but also by the number of wives and children he had.

What is most apparent from the discussion above is the fact that in ancient times, polygamy was the rule in most societies. The fact that it is steadily becoming extinct proves that most of modern society has replaced abstract ideals to more pragmatic ones. In the rising complexity of today’s society and economic situation, it has become quite unrealistic to marry, care and provide for more than one family. Thus, with the present trend, it is unlikely that polygamy will be the rule again soon any of the world’s cultures.

Article written by: Erick S.
Date: 06/13/2005