Experiences of Shona men in polygamous marriages in ward four of Chivi District, Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe.

Author:Gwirayi, Christinah


Polygamy is a marriage system that is rooted in tradition and transmitted from one generation to the next (Gumani & Sodi, 2009). From its Greek origin, the word polygamy is understood to mean simultaneous multiple marriage unions for one person, such as female polyandry and male polygamy (Yamani, 2008). In this study polygamy refers to the marriage of a man to more than one wife; this is the most common form of polygamy, also known as Polygny. Polygamy is legally practised in various countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa (Al-Sharfin, 2015).

In Zimbabwe, while polygamy is prohibited under the civil law; it is accepted under the customary law. In traditional Shona society, a man could have as many wives as possible, provided he could afford to take care of the needs of the family (Bourdillion, 1987).For the Shona people it was not easy for a man to have many wives, polygamy was a preserve for rich people, particularly kings and senior members of the community (Bourdillion, 1987). This can be attributed to the fact that polygamy calls for a big family which demands more resources for its upkeep. The idea is further expounded by Makaudze (2015) who argues that because of the social and economic challenges that are associated with polygamy, not every man in traditional Shona society was an ideal candidate for this type of marriage. Gelfand (1973) advances a number of reasons why the Shona people practised polygamy. It was a solution to high mortality rate, a remedy for infertility, desire for a great clan and a solution to infidelity.

Despites its negative effects on children, wives as well as husbands, polygamy continues to survive as a type of marriage in the Middle East, Asia and Africa (Al-Sharfin, Pfeffer& Miller, 2015). Its continued existence in contemporary society has been attributed to a number of factors such as men's desire to prevent divorce (Gaskiyane, 2000). This usually occurs when the wife is barren, fails to give male sons or less sexually active (Baloyi, 2013).Gelfand (1973) argues that a childless marriage among the Shona people is always a bitter disappointment. Thus it is clear that some men may marry more than one wife to serve their first wives from experiencing the rejection experienced by divorced women and its detrimental effects for the women's self-esteem as well as to ensure that they have children who will take care of them when they grow old. More so, divorce among the Shona people was not tolerated hence the Shona saying Chinorambwa isadza mukadzi haarabwi (A woman should not be divorced).

The continued existence of polygamy in many countries has been attributed to the fact that some people still support it. Despite the growing evidence that polygamy places women at a higher risk of psychiatric disorders (Ozkan et al., 2006), abuse (Hassouneh-Phillips ,2001) and loneliness (Al-Krenawi et al.,2001) people still engage in it willingly. Baloyi (2013) argues that in many African cultures it is the norm for an adult to be married and to have children. Furthermore Rutoro and Madimbo (2015) argue that being single in Africa in the sense of never having been married is regarded as the worst fate that can happen to a woman. As such many women prefer being second or third wives instead of not being married at all (Slonim-Nevo, AlKrenawi& Yuval- Shani, 2008).In traditional Shona society singlehood was not tolerated (Grand & Mazuru, 2011). Furthermore Makaudze (2015) argues that husbandlessness and wifelessness were treated with contempt among the Shona people. Given that scenario, polygamy was used to escape from social ridicule. It is also important to note that women get involved in polygamy out of their free will to do so (Grand & Mazuru, 2011). Some other women may have realised that they have reached marriageable age but have not yet found potential single men to marry them; they would prefer to settle for a married man. In some cases some single women get involved with married men with the full knowledge that they are going into a polygamous marriage.

Slonim-Nevo et al. (2008) argue that economic and social changes have led to the practice of polygamy rendered less sustainable and worthwhile than in the past. More so Esmaili, Sadrpushan and Gorji (2012) carried out a comparative study on the quality of life for men in monogamous and polygamous families and found out that the quality of life for men in monogamous families is better than that of those in polygamous families. Furthermore, they also found out that the father of the family could not simultaneously support and supervise two or three families. Slonim- Nevo et al. (2008) also found that fathers are usually cut off or distant from their children as a result of conflict between the parents. Thus men in polygamous marriages are reported to have more mental health problems than their peers in monogamous families. The lives of men in polygamous marriages are complicated emotionally and financially.

Most studies done on polygamy have focussed on the experiences of polygamy on women and children. Research has shown that women in polygamous marriages are confronted with a number of problems such as abuse, economic difficulties (Al-Krenawi & Lev-Wiesel, 2002; Hassouneh--Phillips, 2001),favouritism, jealousy, neglect and dissatisfaction (Al- Krenawi et al., 2008: Hassouneh--Phillips, 2001: Gumani & Sodi, 2009).Negative experiences of polygamy on children have also been documented. For instance low academic achievement, negligence and bitterness have been reported among children in polygamous families (Al-Krenawi & Slomin-Nevo, 2008: Al-Sharfin, 2015). In polygamous families conflicts among co-wives are inevitable and at times, children are caught up in those conflicts (Al-Krenawi et al., 2001). Despite these negative effects of polygamy, both men and women continue to be involved in polygamous marriages.

Most of the studies that have investigated polygamy have reported more on the experiences of women and children than men (Al-Sharfin, 2015). For instance, men have been reported as the perpetrators of the problems and violence that polygamous families go through (Al-Krenawi et al., 2006; Gumani & Sodi, 2009). As a result, very little is known about the experiences of men in polygamous families in general and among the Shona people of Zimbabwe in particular. Thus, this study sought to contribute to existing literature by investigating the experiences of men in polygamous families in the Shona society. It is important to investigate the experiences of Shona men in polygamous marriages because they are often viewed as perpetrators of the negative experiences associated with such marriages. A good understanding of their experiences can help improve the quality of family life through providing solutions to family problems. Stable and peaceful family life is good for the upbringing of children and their social, emotional, moral and intellectual development.


Research Design

The researcher made use of a phenomenological research design. According to Maypole and Davies (2001) phenomenology is concerned with the lived experiences of people. In this study which was concerned with the lived experiences of men in polygamy the phenomenological research design was useful. More so Heppner et al., (2016) argue that a phenomenological research design reveal new and meaningful knowledge...

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