There are many types of families in Africa. A common one is the nuclear family system. In Africa, the nuclear family consist of the mother, father, and their children (This system is different from an extended family system, in which the household may include non-immediate family members, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles) constitutes the smallest unit of the kinship system, the traditional family consists of several nuclear units held in association by a common father. Because the people are patrilineal, the household family also includes other relatives of the father such as younger unmarried or widowed sisters, aged parents, and children of the father's clan sent to be brought up by him. Included in this same bigger household will be servants, female slaves, and their children. The father remains the head of the nuclear family units.[1]

Polygamy was widely practiced in Africa and it often formed the backbone of the traditional African family patterns. The polygamous family, consisting of a man, his wives (more than one wife), and their children, is the ideal for most Africans[2]. Studies conducted from the 1930s to 1950s indicate that polygamy was common virtually in all regions of Africa.

In spite of the perversity of polygamy, there was evidence that it was on the decline. The major reason cited is that with increasing modern influences, marrying more than one wife became an economic burden[3]. Even traditionally, ordinary citizens could not achieve marrying more than one wife. Often only Kings, chiefs and men who had wealth could afford it. Polygamy though set the tone and often determined the strength of the society and pattern of social organization of the traditional African family. 

In the late and early 19th century, a detailed study conducted among the different countries in Africa found that, "Polygamy, the type of marriage in which the husband has plural wives, is not only the preferred but the dominant form of marriage. Commoners had two or three, chiefs had dozens, and the Kings had hundreds of wives. What was the structure of the polygamous family?

Having so many people in this household should not be confused with other types of large families like, "the joint' family, with its several married brothers and their families living together or the 'extended' family, consisting of a group of married off spring living in one household under a patriarch or matriarch." Most Africans are also patrilocal. Therefore, the new families tend to generally live near or with the husband's parents.

Nuclear Family in Africa
There are a number of advantages for having a nuclear family. In today's traditional nuclear families, it is common to have dual incomes. Both parents work to provide financial stability for the household, creating a larger cash flow to supply the basic family needs of housing, food and healthcare. Financial stability also allows the parents to provide additional extracurricular opportunities for their children, such as music or athletic lessons. These opportunities allow children to flourish socially and develop a higher level of confidence.[4]
A 2-parent household is more likely to have a higher consistency with raising their children. By reaching agreements on discipline and modeling appropriate behavior, parents act as a team to strengthen and reinforce child behavior. Children get consistent messages about behavioral expectations. Nuclear families have more daily routines, like eating dinner together, adding to consistency.

Nuclear families tend to establish stronger bonds as they work together and rely on one another to overcome challenges. Children witness their parents' supportive and loving relationships, which help them learn how to interact appropriately. Nuclear families tend to be more resilient when faced with obstacles, as they learn to problem solve together and support each other emotionally.[5]

Polygamy in Africa
The polygamy has existed in all over the African continent thanks to the fact that it represents an aspect of their culture and religion. These types of marriages have been more present in the whole history of Africa like no other continent in the world. One of the reasons why this has happened is because the African societies have managed to see that children were a form of wealth and this way a family with more children was considered to be more powerful. Under these circumstances the polygamy in Africa was considered to be part of the way you could build an empire.

Only after the colonial era in Africa has appeared the polygamy has started to be perceived as a taboo, as this was one of the things imported along with the colonists that took over some regions of Africa. Some people are saying that there was also an economic reason why this has happened: there were many issues of property ownership that conflicted a lot with the European colonial interest.

At first the polygamy was very popular in the west part of Africa, but as the Islam has started to diffuse in this region, the prevalence of polygamy has started to continuously reduce due to the restrictions that appeared to the number of wives.
Even if people are thinking about the fact that Africa is by far one of the most developing continent in the world, there are still many traditionalists out there that are constantly practicing polygamy. [6]

Overall the polygamy in Africa is a very common practice that you are going to find all over Africa, but it tends to be more popular especially in the West African countries. This practice is very common among the animist and the Muslim communities. For example in Senegal there are almost 47% of the marriages where they feature more than one woman. In the Arab nations the percentages are even higher and there is also the Bedouin population that you can find in Israel, where around 30% of them are part of multiple marriages. And along with all that there are also the Mormon fundamentalists who also live in polygamous families.

One of the preconceptions more popularly held by both academics and lay public alike in regard to African rural society is that the indigenous family unit is polygamous in nature. This is only partly true. A broad survey of homestead patterns in the region reveals that whilst a number of polygamous settlements may still be found in the rural countryside, these are in a distinct minority, and nuclear (monogamous) marriages appear to be the general norm. It could of course be argued that this is a recent development brought about by the work of Christian missionaries, but the validity of such an assumption needs be questioned. Not only do the Christian churches which enjoy the largest following in Africa countries, the so-called Independent Churches, permit their followers to practice polygamy, but although the practice of polygamy was indeed more prevalent during the last century, its presence was not as widespread as various missionaries way have wished us to believe. 

Lichtenstein (1812) wrote that:
"Most of the ordinary men have but one wife; the kings and chiefs in Africa only have four or five."
This was reinforced by Alberti (1812) who stated that:
“Those with least resources, must be satisfied with one woman, others have two, and rarely more.”
Contemporary visitors to other parts of the country have come to similar conclusions.
Livingstone (1857) went one step further and estimated that approximately 43% of African men practiced polygamy, and then only a very small minority of these had more than three wives. By 1946 an official census revealed that this figure had dropped to 11% with only 1.3% having three wives or more.

The practice of polygamy may, in most cases, be explained in terms of a levirate, a social practice, used to ensure the continued status and survival of widows and orphans within an established family structure. While it is true, therefore, that every rural family is potentially polygamous in nature, we need to question whether such polygamy was the result of "male sexuality and lust", as the missionaries would have it, or merely the enforcement of social obligations intended to reinforce ties between family or clan groupings. Recent data would seem to show that some 27% of rural households are currently headed by widowed or single women. If we were to assume that in the 1850s an equivalent number of women could have become widows and were thus absorbed into the nuclear (monogamous) households of family members, thus making them polygamous, then it will be seen that this form of union could have accounted for most of the polygamous marriages recorded by Livingstone among the Africans. The remaining group, those with three wives or more, were a distinct minority and their polygamy may be explained in terms of group leaders creating political alliances and gaining control of resources for their own communities.

The general trend away from polygamous unions evidenced since 1900 could therefore be explained in two ways. The growth of urbanization and the establishment of urban-based political structures has brought about a decreased emphasis upon both regional group identity and the power of the traditional and inherited rural leadership. The need for making unions based upon political expediency has thus lessened considerably. The economics of obtaining a bride in the rural areas has also changed substantially over the past five generations, as women also began to enter the ranks of an industrialized and urban proletariat in increasing numbers after the 1930s.

Polygamy in Christianity
The Bible states in the New Testament that polygamy should not be practiced [by certain church leaders]. [7]1 Timothy states that certain Church leaders should have but one wife: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach" (chapter 3, verse 2; see also verse 12 regarding deacons having only one wife). Similar counsel is repeated in the first chapter of the Epistle to Titus. [8]1 Corinthians (chapter 7, verse 2) also writes, "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband."[9]

Periodically, Christian reform movements that have aimed at rebuilding Christian doctrine based on the Bible alone (sola scriptura) have at least temporarily accepted polygyny as a Biblical practice. For example, during the Protestant Reformation, in a document referred to simply as "Der Beichtrat" (or "The Confessional Advice"), [10]Martin Luther granted the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who, for many years, had been living "constantly in a state of adultery and fornication," a dispensation to take a second wife. The double marriage was to be done in secret, however, to avoid public scandal. [11]Some fifteen years earlier, in a letter to the Saxon Chancellor Gregor Brück, Luther stated that he could not "forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture." ("Ego sane fateor, me non posse prohibere, si quis plures velit uxores ducere, nec repugnat sacris literis.")[12]

"On February 14, 1650, the parliament at Nürnberg decreed that, because so many men were killed during the Thirty Years' War, the churches for the following ten years could not admit any man under the age of 60 into a monastery. Priests and ministers not bound by any monastery were allowed to marry. Lastly, the decree stated that every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. The men were admonished to behave honorably, provide for their wives properly, and prevent animosity among them."[13]

The trend towards frequent divorce and remarriage is sometimes referred to as 'serial polygamy'. In contrast, others may refer to this as 'serial monogamy', since it is a series of monogamous relationships. The first term highlights the multiplicity of marriages throughout the life-cycle, the second the non-simultaneous nature of these marriages.[14]

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there has often been a tension between the Christian churches' insistence on monogamy and traditional polygamy. In some instances in recent times there have been moves for accommodation; in other instances, churches have resisted such moves strongly. African Independent Churches have sometimes referred to those parts of the Old Testament that describe polygamy in defending the practice.

Polygamy in Islam
In Islam, polygyny is allowed upon the condition that the husband treats all his wives equally and also the Sharia law allows a man to have at most four wives at any time. This is based on verse 4:3 of Quran which says:

If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.
—Qur'an, Sura 4 (An-Nisa), Ayah 3 [15]

The verse 4:129 also cautions men against polygyny and has been cited as an implicit prohibition of polygyny in Quran by some.:[16]

Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire.
—Qur'an, Sura 4 (An-Nisa), Ayah 129

The Muslim Prophet Muhammad had total nine wives, but not all at the same time, depending on the sources in his lifetime. He had nine wives at the time of his death. The Qur'an clearly states that men who choose this route must deal with their wives justly. If the husband fears that he cannot deal with his wives justly, then he should only marry one. The Qur'an does not give preference in marrying more than one wife but allows it to make it easier on a woman who has no support. A husband does not have to have permission from his first wife.[17] However, the wife can set a condition, before marriage, that the husband cannot marry another woman during their marriage. In such a case, the husband cannot marry another woman as long as he is married to his wife.

Women, on the other hand, are only allowed to marry one husband, although they are allowed to remarry after a divorce. Although many Muslim countries still retain traditional Islamic law that permits polygyny, secular elements within some Muslim societies challenge its acceptability. Polygyny is prohibited by law in some Muslim-majority countries that have not adopted Islamic law for marital regulations.

Why some men practice polygyny - Modern Practices of Polygyny
A number of factors contribute to the high rate of polygamy in the modern day Africa. Basically, there are cultural reasons, biological reasons, religious or practical reasons such as satisfaction.[18]

By some cultural nuances across the African continent, it is permissible for a man to have more than one wife. Some religious tenets such as Islam allow a man to have more than one wife provided that he is capable of loving and taking care of all of them equitably. Islamic religion allows a man to marry four wives for several reasons: fulfillment in terms of infertility, sexual prowess, the number of female births in comparison to male child and the belief as stated by the Prophet Muhammad that the more the people, the larger his community.

To correct the misinterpretation usually alluded to this, Alhaji Ibrahim Moshood Lawal lamented that faithful(s) should not take the teachings of the Quran at face value, as if forced to do so. The Quran, he explained, made allowance for polygamy on the condition that the man love all four wives equally and also effectively foster the four pillars of marriage in Islam: to clothe, feed, educate and shelter your wife. The Quran instructs Muslim men to "marry women of your choice two or three or four," but warns that "if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one or your (concubines). That is more fitting so that you do not deviate from the right course." The Prophet Muhammad said, "Whosoever has two wives and he inclines towards one to the exclusion of the other, he will come on the Day of Judgment with his body dropping or bending down".[19]

In some instances people ignores such conditions. Illiterate Muslims blatantly ignore these conditions which he terms Human-Created Polygamy, polygamy without justice and finance. "Some of our Muslim brothers are stark illiterates, a literate Muslim finds it difficult to hold a family while the illiterate ones (western education and Islamic religion) has four wives. How can you cope? There are such people in government offices looting government treasury." According to reports of cases filed at different Court around Africa, in 2012 - 2015, 5 out of 8 cases were based on abandonment (includes lack of care and support).[20]

For example, a husband who makes small income per day marries four wives and eventually leaves his family incommunicado for a year or two. Secondly, according to a particular cultural tradition across Africa, Polygamy is an acceptable practice. It is important to be mindful of the fact that African societies used to be mainly rural. A man would get married to two or more wives in order to have a large family to assist him in the farm. The logic of division of labour provides rational basis for polygamy in that era.

In some cases, family members may encourage some men to marry more than one wife for the purposes of procreation. According to African cultural tradition and the bible, marriage or conjugal relationship exists so that procreation can continue. Where after a while, a marriage has been consummated and children are not forthcoming, members of the extended family may start getting worried, eventually, the man is encouraged to explore elsewhere by taking another wife.

Another reason outside the problem of infertility is when a man is not happy with the marriage or with the wife he is married to. Rather than going on conjugal escapades outside of the matrimonial home, he might be compelled to look elsewhere for marriage and the exploration may get consummated. There are men who take Temporary Wives. The length of temporary marriage is defined in advance and can last anything from hours to decades as practiced by some Muslims in Britain.

In Africa, the man uses every method of injection or family planning (they warn these women they do not want children) to ensure they do not bear children for them. This case holds true in the case of the rich director who almost every year divorces one of his wives to marry another. "Men that practice such by Islamic Laws are wrong, they have decided to ignore their religious teachings and marry a woman, two to three months he divorces her because he has gotten what he wants from the union - sex. Islamic Law teaches that you must maintain your wives. Temporary wives, Amnesty International reports, generally face social ostracism, and their children may face difficulties in accessing public services such as education because if the marriage is unregistered, it may be hard for the mother to prove paternity.

Contrary to Temporary Wives, there are situations of some wives that are aware of the second wife as she is moved into the same house as the first. The Abdullah's is a household of ten including husband, two wives and seven children. The children all attend the same school, two of the wives' children are in the same class although the children of the second get better grades in school.

Their husband provides the children equal opportunities and attention that they both live happily since the husband does not show his preference for either one. Abdullah married his second wife three months apart from his first marriage. Sources close to the couples explained that the first wife was his parent's choice while the second was his true choice, the one he met before his first wife. Forced Marriage results to polygamy, especially when the couple involved have nothing in common.[21]

Another modern form of polygamy is the instance exhibited by a married to three wives who are aware of the other wives' existence. However, they live under separate roofs. The man has no permanent residence rather spreads himself around to the wives. He spends two weeks with each wife. On occasions when he travels, he takes one along with him, spends quality time with her depending on the timetable of each wife. He never takes two at a time.
Single mothers lack the choice of picking a husband, thus, they practically seek the position of second wives especially from men who view polygamy as a religious purpose. For religious purposes, men marry many wives to keep the widow and 'wallflowers or almost on the shelf ladies' from the streets. It is believed that these women have sexual as well as financial and security stability needs. Rather than leave poor widows exposed to the dangers in our socio-economic environment, he advised that men should legally assume full responsibility of the woman in question and her children.

'Wall flowers' and 'almost on the shelf' are graduates. They tend to accept marriages as second wives out of desperation and fear of hitting menopause without giving birth to a child. When suitors come asking for her hand in marriage, even if they were men who already have a family, they quickly jump at such opportunity to have children, and on many occasions, financial security.

A more callous approach to polygamy is where the woman in question is not aware that the husband she is legally married to is keeping another woman, away from home. There have been several stories circulating about women who find themselves in such situation. Sometimes they discover too late after the death of the husband and accommodate them as concerns inheritance and the will of the deceased. On other occasions they do recover on time but had to tolerate the act.

Refuting allegations that polygamy helps reduce the rate of poverty among struggling widows and orphans, a medical study conducted by the Croatian Medical Journal in African nations that legalized the practice found the odds are more likely that families of men having the right to marry multiple wives will conceive more children for whom it would cost more to provide. The study also noted that the temptation for sexual intercourse that has often come with polygamy, regardless of whether a man has multiple wives or vice versa, has been a major contributor to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa as well.[22]

Also, a 2012 study from the University of British Columbia shows that, in polygamist cultures, "the intra-sexual competition that occurs causes greater levels of crime, violence, and poverty and gender inequality than in societies that institutionalize and practice monogamous marriage".[23]

A 2013 study of African students, published in the International Journal of Psychology and Counselling, showed that "there is a significant difference in the overall academic achievement of students from monogamous families and those from polygamous families" and "that life in polygamous family can be traumatic and children brought up in such family structure often suffer some emotional problems such as lack of warmth, love despite availability of money and material resources, and disciplinary problems which may hinder their academic performance."[24]

A study of Bedouin-Arab women found that "Women in polygamous marriages showed significantly higher psychological distress, and higher levels of somatisation, phobia and other psychological problems. They also had significantly more problems in family functioning, marital relationships and life satisfaction".[25]

It is no longer news nor can surprising that women in modern Africa can afford to share their spouse with another woman. But the rate at which this practice is increasing in different African countries has become worrisome.

Not minding their level of education, the consciousness of the average African man especially those raised in the cultural setting, has not changed. Regardless of the level of westernization imbibed by an average African man in terms of his academic qualification, exposure, dressing, among others, when it comes to marriage, he remains an African man in his consciousness.

Hence, the moment they are able to achieve some measure of success materially, there is always the tendency to let go of the inhibition that the white man's religion or education imposes on them and find them marrying many women. And if the white man's religion becomes a challenge, they find a way around it by keeping many mistresses. Invariably, an African man is still an African man underneath. It is purely more a cultural issue than any other factor. What then are the other factors that encourage this concept?

The conclusion therefore is that the practice of polygamy may have been common in Africa up to the end of the last century but that it was never as widespread as has been popularly represented.

Emblems of pluralism: cultural differences and the state, Cultural lives of law, Princeton paperbacks,Carol Weisbrod, p. 53, Princeton University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-691-08925-6
Alfred Altmann, "Verein für Geschichte der Stadt Nürnburg," Jahresbericht über das 43 Vereinsjahr 1920 [Annual Report for the 43rd Year 1920 of the Historical Society of the City of Nuremberg] (Nürnberg 1920): 13–15 (Altmann reporting a lecture he had given discussing the polygamy permission said to have been granted in Nuremberg in 1650, Altmann characterizing the Fränkisches Archiv as "merely a popular journal, not an edition of state documents," and describing the tradition as "a literary fantasy").
Al-Krenawi, Alean; Graham, John (January 2006). "A Comparison of Family Functioning, Life and Marital Satisfaction, and Mental Health of Women in Polygamous and Monogamous Marriages". International Journal of Social Psychiatry 52 (1).
Effects of family type (monogamy or polygamy) on students' academic achievement in Africa. International Journal of Psychology and Counselling. Published: October 2013
Fisher, Helen (2000). The First Sex. Ballantine Books. pp. 271–72, 276. ISBN 0-449-91260-4.
Fox, Martin and O'Ciarrai, Breandan. "Céard is Sinnsreachd Ann? (What Is Sinnsreachd?)", Tuath na Ciarraide, March 7, 2007. Retrieved on July 27, 2012.
Is HIV/AIDS Epidemic Outcome of Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa Noel Dzimnenani Mbirimtengerenji, Croatian Medical Journal, October 2007 edition, Accessed February 5, 2014
James Bowling Mozley Essays, Historical and Theological. 1:403–404 Excerpts from Der Beichtrat.
Joseph Alfred X. Michiels, Secret History of the Austrian Government and of its Systematic Persecutions of Protestants (London: Chapman and Hall, 1859) p. 85 (copy at Google Books), the author stating that he is quoting from a copy of the legislation.
Larry O. Jensen, A Genealogical Handbook of German Research (Rev. Ed., 1980) p. 59.
Leonhard Theobald, "Der angebliche Bigamiebeschluß des fränkischen Kreistages" ["The So-called Bigamy Decision of the Franconian Kreistag"], Beitrage zur Bayerischen kirchengeschichte [Contributions to Bavarian Church History] 23 (1916 – bound volume dated 1917) Erlangen: 199–200 (Theobald reporting that the Franconian Kreistag did not hold session between 1645 and 1664, and that there is no record of such a law in the extant archives of Nürnberg, Ansbach, or Bamberg, Theobald believing that the editors of the Fränkisches Archiv must have misunderstood a draft of some other legislation from 1650).
Letter to Philip of Hesse, December 10, 1539, De Wette-Seidemann, 6:238–244
Letter to the Chancellor Gregor Brück, January 13, 1524, De Wette 2:459.
Monogamy reduces major social problems of polygamist cultures. Science Daily. Published: 24 January 2012.
See Heinrich Christoph Büttner, Johann Heinrich Keerl, und Johann Bernhard Fischer. Fränkisches Archiv, herausgegeben. I Band. 1790. (at p. 155) (setting forth a 1790 printing of the legislation).
The Digital Nestle-Aland lists only one manuscript (P46) as source of the verse, while nine other manuscripts have no such verse, cf.
The Life of Luther Written by Himself, p.251. Retrieved 2011-09-13.
William Walker Rockwell, Die Doppelehe des Landgrafen Philipp von Hessen (Marburg, 1904), p. 280, n. 2 (copy at Google Books), which reports the number of wives allowed was two.
Work Cited
1 Timothy chapter 3, verse 2; see also verse 12
Epistle to Titus - first chapter
1 Corinthians (chapter 7, verse 2)

[1] Nuclear family:  Instructor: Kimberly Devore
[2] “Polygamy". Online Etymology Dictionary
[3] Lucy P. Mair, "African Marriage and Social Change," in Survey of African Marriage and Family Life. Edited by Arthur Phillips, (London: Oxford University Press, 1953)
[4] Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D. The traditional marriage family
[5] Nuclear family:  Instructor: Kimberly Devore
[6] Yizenge A. Chondoka, Traditional Marriages in Zambia: A Study in Cultural History. (Ndola: Mission Press, 1988)
[7] 1 Timothy chapter 3, verse 2; see also verse 12
[8] Epistle to Titus - first chapter and 1 Corinthians (chapter 7, verse 2)
[9] The Digital Nestle-Aland lists only one manuscript (P46) as source of the verse, while nine other manuscripts have no such verse, cf.
[10] The Life of Luther Written by Himself, p.251. Retrieved 2011-09-13.
[11] Letter to Philip of Hesse, December 10, 1539, De Wette-Seidemann, 6:238–244
[12] James Bowling Mozley Essays, Historical and Theological. 1:403–404 Excerpts from Der Beichtrat.
[13] Larry O. Jensen, A Genealogical Handbook of German Research (Rev. Ed., 1980) p. 59.
[14] Fisher, Helen (2000). The First Sex. Ballantine Books. pp. 271–72, 276. ISBN 0-449-91260-4.
[15] Quran 4:3
[16] Modern Muslim societies
[17] "IslamWeb". IslamWeb. 2002-02-07. Retrieved 2015-02-20
[18] Chikelu, Chinelo. Nigeria: Polygamy - Why Men Marry More Women. Published in leadership newspaper
[19] Quran 4:129
[21] Stuart Queen, Robert W. Habenstein, and John B. Adams, "The Polygynous Baganda Family," in The Family in Various Cultures, (New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1961) Ch. IV, pp.66-87.
[22] Is HIV/AIDS Epidemic Outcome of Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa Noel Dzimnenani Mbirimtengerenji, Croatian Medical Journal, October 2007 edition, Accessed February 5, 2014
[23] Monogamy reduces major social problems of polygamist cultures. Science Daily. Published: 24 January 2012.
[24] Effects of family type (monogamy or polygamy) on students' academic achievement in Nigeria. International Journal of Psychology and Counselling. Published: October 2013
[25] Al-Krenawi, Alean; Graham, John (January 2006). "A Comparison of Family Functioning, Life and Marital Satisfaction, and Mental Health of Women in Polygamous and Monogamous Marriages". International Journal of Social Psychiatry 52 (1).
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