Contemplating Polygamy

Kwame Mainu was driving his daughter, Akosua, and her friends back to Coventry from their school in Warwick. The girls asked him for a story about trees to put in one of their school assignments. Kwame said that he would give them a brief outline of a traditional Ashanti folk tale and Akosua would fill in the details later from a book she had at home.Kwame paused as he concentrated on negotiating a roundabout, weaving between lines of static traffic heading in other directions. Then he continued, ‘Long ago, Nana Nyankopon, the creator god, lived on earth with his three wives. His favourite wife, Kraa, the youngest and most beautiful, gave birth to three sons called Gold, Silver and Copper but the senior wife, Akoko Antwiwaa was jealous and hid the newborn babies in the hollow of an odum tree. At the end of a long story Nana Nyankopon is told what has happened and Akoko is punished by being turned into a chicken.’

The young women sat silent for some time, a unique experience for Kwame who thought to himself: they’re wondering which question to ask first. Then they were all talking at once:’Can men marry three wives in Ghana?’

‘In the Bible, Abraham had three wives.’

‘I don’t want my husband to have two more wives.’

‘What is the moral of the story?’

‘You shouldn’t be jealous.’

‘How does it tell us the usefulness of the odum tree?’

‘It doesn’t, it only draws attention to the tree.’

‘How dreadful to be turned into a chicken!’

‘How wicked to hide babies in a tree!’Kwame listened as his daughter struggled to answer her friends’ questions and comments but gradually his own concerns flooded his thoughts. Polygamy could be the answer to his problem. He had lived with Gladys and Afriyie for some time; how pleasant it would be if he could live with Comfort and Afriyie. Jealousy would be the problem. If God’s wives couldn’t live in harmony how could he expect his wives to live in peace?On the other hand, many men in Ghana succeeded in maintaining some sort of domestic harmony with multiple wives. Moslems had developed a system that encompassed up to four official wives under one roof and Christian men solved the problem by maintaining more than one household, one for the official wife and one for each junior wife or girlfriend. Polygamy was allowed under customary law in Ghana; it was left to each man to adjust his lifestyle to his particular circumstances.

Kwame knew that his father was against polygamy. Kwesi Mainu had only one wife and never married again after he had been abandoned. In such circumstances polygamy could have provided benefits. If Kwesi had had two wives maybe one would have stayed to care for husband and son. The arguments seemed finely balanced, and as always Kwame decided to give himself plenty of time to come to a decision.

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