Polygamy can be bearable if only men sought consent from first wives

Living in Nairobi estates will expose you to so much about life with its many important lessons on survival, budgeting, and friendships. You will even learn that pegs are a precious commodity that should be counted every time you use them. I learned several lifelong lessons on marriage while living in Umoja. The estate had several courts and within the courts were plots with about five to six houses with a communal sink that was just opposite the bathrooms. With such a setup, it is difficult to keep your matters completely private. That is how I came to know that baba Ken had not two, but three wives living next to each other in the same plot.

 

Ancentus “Danger” Akuku (shown here in 1984) was widely regarded as Kenya’s most prolific polygamist; he married over 100 women during his life. CC Photo courtesy of This is Africa

The oldest of the harmonious trio lived in door number five, the second one in door number four while the last wife who was almost my age lived in door number three. Every month, they would all meet in the house of the oldest wife who would share the shopping and money meant for bills and petty cash. The four had come up with a rosta for spending time with the husband as well.  Yeah! stranger than fiction I know but it is true and definitely a far cry from the situation of my uncle in the village who was not having such an easy time since he married his second wife.

Apart from the first wife always sharpening a panga in front of the house of her co-wife in a suggestive manner, she had successfully turned everyone against the second wife who was the apple of her husband’s eye ostensibly because of her looks and age. Just as with a cough, it can be pretty difficult to hide new love but my uncle and his new wife do not have such privileges as the first wife has turned the entire homestead into a war zone akin to Iraq, with missiles flying in the form of crude weapons and insults. The situation worsens every Wednesday and Saturday, the market days when my uncle used to bring his family meat. It is however, not working for him as he thought because the harsh economic times have made it difficult to provide meat at the same time for the two. Whenever it is not her turn to get the rationed meat, the first wife will stick to her window and sing dirges all night.

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Having observed those two scenarios, asking questions and observing many others, you can only conclude that with   Baba Ken’s case, there was consultation and some dialogue. At this point, am sure that the men will start with am the head of the house chorus but the consultations with your wife do not make you any less of a man or do they? Traditionally, men were supposed to consult their first wives who would even help with the search of the new wife but these days, you will be rudely informed through a post on Kilimani Mums Uncensored that you are in a polygamous relationship. Some unlucky women came to find out through a text from their missing husband reading, “Don’t look for me, I am at your co-wife’s place.” For yet another woman, she only found out when she went for the Christmas holidays and was introduced to her co-wife after the holidays were over. Now that is just brutal.

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Since many of us Christians having been brought up in homes with just one mother, the reception to the news is usually hostile, with some first wives leaving the union altogether. A good percentage often employs unorthodox methods such as witchcraft to ensure that the other woman leaves the union. Others just choose to accept and move on but only after an initial outburst.

A polygamous wedding ceremony  (image source News.com.au)

When President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the controversial Marriage bill legalizing polygamy in Kenya, there was jubilation among our men but curiously very few have done it, choosing to keep no strings arrangements on the side instead. The controversy surrounding the bill at that time was that the male Members of Parliament amended the bill to allow men to marry more wives without consulting the previous wives. This is all good on paper but I don’t think many took into account the kind of chaos this will bring. Consultations are important especially surrounding family property, finances and so on.

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The book of Amos 3 correctly puts it, how can two walk together if they do not agree? Consultations are important if the previous marriages are to work after you bring in the youngest. Polygamous marriages are mostly messy and it will help if the women are in good terms as well. Although the Islam religion encourages polygamy, you should know that it also calls for fair play when treating the other wives and you should also be able to provide for them. That is practical enough for everybody because if you are unable to provide for one wife, it beats logic that you will be able to provide for the others.

Please, when you are consulting and giving reasons for marrying a new wife, steer clear of reasons such as,  “But David and Solomon had many wives or just because I want to,” as one man Mark Kariuki answered me. You may want to do it calmly, when she is in a good mood and explain your reasons candidly, listen to her views, do some compromising until you both agree. This may not guarantee a  red carpet welcome for the new wife, but it will let her come to a peaceful family, just ask Baba Ken.

 

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