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Polygyny (//; from Neo-Greek πολυγυνία from πολύ- poly- "many", and γυνή gyne "woman or wife") is a form of plural marriage in which a man is allowed more than one wife (i.e. it is a narrow form of polygamy, and distinguished from other forms of polygamy such as polyandry). In modern countries that permit polygamy, polygyny is typically the only form permitted.
In countries where polygamy is illegal, someone who marries a person while lawfully married to another commits the crime of bigamy. In some countries where polygamy is illegal, and sometimes even when legal, at times it is known for men to have one or more mistresses, who they do not marry. The status of a mistress is not that of a wife, and any children born of such relationships were (and some still are) considered illegitimate and subject to legal disabilities.
- 1 Extent and economic benefits of polygyny to men
- 2 Effects of polygyny on women
- 3 Polygyny by country
- 4 Religion
- 5 Findings
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Extent and economic benefits of polygyny to men
Throughout the "polygyny belt" stretching from Senegal in the west to Tanzania in the east, as many as a third to a half of married women are in polygynous unions. Historically, polygyny was partially accepted in ancient Hebrew society, in classical China, and in sporadic traditional Native American, African and Polynesian cultures. In India it was known to have been practiced during ancient times. It was accepted in ancient Greece, until the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church.
Anthropologist Jack Goody's comparative study of marriage around the world, using the Ethnographic Atlas, demonstrated an historical correlation between the practice of extensive shifting horticulture and polygyny in the majority of Sub-Saharan African societies. Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that in some of the sparsely populated regions where shifting cultivation takes place in Africa, much of the work is done by women. This favoured polygamous marriages in which men sought to monopolize the production of women "who are valued both as workers and as child bearers. Goody however, observes that the correlation is imperfect". He also describes more male dominated though relatively extensive farming systems such as those that exist in much of West Africa, particularly the savannah region, where polygamy aids in the production of sons whose labor is valued" 
Goody's observation regarding African male farming systems is discussed and supported by anthropologists Douglas R. White and Michael L. Burton in "Causes of Polygyny: Ecology, Economy, Kinship, and Warfare"  where authors note: "Goody (1973) argues against the female contributions hypothesis. He notes Dorjahn's (1959) comparison of East and West Africa, showing higher female agricultural contributions in East Africa and higher polygyny rates in West Africa, especially in the West African savannah, where one finds especially high male agricultural contributions. Goody says, "The reasons behind polygyny are sexual and reproductive rather than economic and productive" (1973:189), arguing that men marry polygynously to maximize their fertility and to obtain large households containing many young dependent males." 
A report by the secretariat of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) quotes: "one of the strongest appeals of polygyny to men in Africa is precisely its economic aspect, for a man with several wives commands more land, can produce more food for his household and can achieve a high status due to the wealth which he can command.".[page needed] According to Esther Boserup, over much of the continent of Africa, tribal rules of land tenure are still in force.[page needed] This implies that members of a tribe, which commands a certain territory, have a native right to take land under cultivation for food production and in many cases also for the cultivation of cash crops. Under this tenure system, an additional wife is an economic asset that helps the family to expand its production.
Augmenting division of labor
Boserup (1970) was the first to propose that the high incidence of polygyny in sub-Saharan Africa is rooted in the sexual division of labor in hoe-farming and the large economic contribution of women.
In the regions of shifting cultivation where polygyny is most frequently recorded, labor is often starkly divided between genders. The task of felling trees in preparation of new plots is usually done by older boys and very young men. Wives, on the other hand, are solely or primarily responsible for giving birth and rearing children; cultivating, processing and providing food for the family; and for performing domestic duties for the husband.
An elderly cultivator, with several wives and likely several young male children, benefits from having a much larger workforce within his household. By the combined efforts of his young sons and young wives, he may gradually expand his cultivation and become more and more prosperous. A man with a single wife has less help in cultivation and is likely to have little or no help for felling trees. According to Boserup's historical data, women living in such a structure also welcome one or more co-wives to share with them the burden of daily labor. However, the second wife will usually do the most tiresome work, almost as if she were a servant to the first wife, and will be inferior to the first wife in status.[page needed] A 1930s study of the Mende in the west African state of Sierra Leone concluded that a plurality of wives is an agricultural asset, since a large number of women makes it unnecessary to employ wage laborers. Polygyny is considered an economic advantage in many rural areas. In some cases, the economic role of the additional wife enables the husband to enjoy more leisure.[page needed]
Desire for progeny
Most research into the determinants of polygyny has focused on macro-level factors. Widespread polygyny is linked to the kinship groups that share descent from a common ancestor. Polygyny also served as "a dynamic principle of family survival, growth, security, continuity, and prestige," especially as a socially approved mechanism that increases the number of adult workers immediately and the eventual workforce of resident children.
Scholars have argued that in farming systems where men do most of the agriculture work, a second wife can be an economic burden rather than an asset. In order to feed an additional wife, the husband must either work harder himself or he must hire laborers to do part of the work. In such regions, polygyny is either non-existent or is a luxury which only a small minority of rich farmers can indulge.[page needed]
Effects of polygyny on women
Support for a widow
In some societies a man is required to marry the widow of a deceased brother, even if he is already married, in a so-called levirate marriage. The practice has been justified on the basis that it helps provide support and protection for the widow and her children, and as a means of keeping the late brother's inheritance within the family.
Interviews conducted with some of the Logoli Tribe in Kenya suggested they feared polygynous marriages because of what they have witnessed in the lives of other women who are currently in such relationships. The observed experiences of some of the women in polygynous unions tend to be characterized by frequent jealousy, conflicts, competition, tensions, and psychological stresses. Some of the husbands fail to share love and other resources equally; and envy and hatred, and sometimes violent physical confrontations become the order of the day among co-wives and their children. This discourages women from entering a polygynous marriage.
Among the Logoli of Kenya, the fear of AIDS or becoming infected with the HIV virus has informed women's decisions about entering polygynous marriages. Some view polygyny as a means to prevent men from taking random sexual partners and potentially introducing STDs into relationships. Women who are against polygynous marriages argued that polygyny places individuals at risk for contracting various sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS.
Polygyny by country
|Legal status of polygamy|
|Recognized under civil law|
|Recognized in some regions|
|Foreign marriages recognized|
|Recognized under customary law|
|Status in other jurisdictions|
Today polygyny is more widespread in Africa than in any other continent. Generally in rural areas with growing populations, the higher the incidence of polygyny, the greater the delay of first marriage for young men. The higher the average polygyny rate, the greater the element of gerontocracy. Quite apart from the rate of polygyny, the distribution of wives may be uneven.
Polygynous marriage was preferred among the Logoli and other Abalulya sub ethnic groups. Taking additional wives was regarded as one of the fundamental indicators of a successfully established man. Large families enhanced the prestige of Logoli men. Logoli men with large families were also capable of obtaining justice, as they would be feared by people, who would not dare to use force to take their livestock or other goods from them. Interviews with some of the contemporary Logoli men and women who recently made polygynous marriages yielded data which suggest that marrying another wife is usually approached with considerable thought and deliberation by the man. It may or may not involve or require the consent of the other wives and prospective wife's parents. A type of "surrogate pregnancy" arrangement was reported to have been observed, in which some wives who are unable to bear children, find fulfillment in the children and family provided by a husband taking additional wives. Some of the men indicated that they were pressured by their parents to marry another wife, who could contribute additional income to the family. Some of the young polygynous men indicated that they were trapped in polygyny because of the large number of single women who needed and were willing to take them as husbands although they were already married. Most of those second and third wives were older women who had not yet married.
Many majority Muslim countries retain the traditional sharia, which interprets teachings of the Quran to permit polygamy with up to four wives, as long as it is practiced under the specified conditions. Exceptions to this include Albania, Tunisia, Turkey, and former USSR republics. Though about 70% of the population of Albania is historically Muslim, the majority is non-practicing. Turkey and Tunisia are countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations that enforce secularist practices by law. In the former USSR republics, a prohibition against polygamy has been inherited from Soviet Law. In the 21st century, a revival of the practice of polygamy in the Muslim World has contributed to efforts to re-establish its legality and legitimacy in some countries and communities where it is illegal.
The original wife (or legal wife) was referred to as the 正室 zhèngshì /정실 (main room) both in China, Japan and Korea. 大婆 dàpó (big woman/big wife) is the slang term. Both terms indicate the orthodox nature and hierarchy. The official wife was called "big mother" (大媽 dàmā), mother or aunt. The child of the concubine addressed the big mother as "aunt."
The written word for the second woman was 側室 cèshì /측실 and literally means "she who occupied the side room". This word was also used in both Korea and Japan. They were also called 妾 qiè/첩 in China and Korea. The common terms referring to the second woman, and the act of having the second woman respectively, are 二奶 (èrnǎi / yi nai), literally "the second wife".
Polygyny had been legal in China and was supported by law at the end of the Qing/Ching dynasty of the imperial China (1911). In the past, Emperors could have hundreds to thousands of concubines. Rich officials and merchants of the elite also took concubines in addition to legal wives. The first wife was the head or mother wife; other wives were under her headship if the husband was away. Concubines had lower status than the full wives. Children from concubines received equal wealth/legacy from their father.
In modern mainland China, polygamy is illegal under Marriage Law passed in 1980. This replaced a similar 1950 prohibition. It is tolerated in Tibet.
Polygamy was widely practiced in the Republic of China from 1911 to 1949, before Kuomintang was defeated in the Civil War and forced to retreat to Taiwan. Zhang Zongchang, a well-known warlord, notably declared he had three 'unknowns' - unknown number of rifles, unknown amount of money, and unknown number of concubines. 不知道自己有多少枪，不知道自己有多少钱，不知道自己有多少姨太太 After the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, polygamy was strictly prohibited.
Kevin Murphy of the International Herald Tribune reported on the cross-border polygamy phenomenon in Hong Kong in 1995. In a research paper of Humboldt University of Berlin on sexology, Doctor Man-Lun Ng estimated about 300,000 men in China have mistresses. In 1995, 40% of extramarital affairs in Hong Kong involved a stable partner
Period drama and historical novels frequently refer to the former culture of polygamy (usually polygyny). An example is the Wuxia novel The Deer and the Cauldron by Hong Kong writer Louis Cha, in which the protagonist Wei Xiaobao has seven wives.
A proposal to decriminalize polygamy was heard by the Kyrgyz parliament. It was supported by the Justice Minister, the country's ombudsman, and the Muslim Women's organization Mutakalim, which had gathered 40,000 signatures in favour of polygamy. But, on March 26, 2007, parliament rejected the bill. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is known to oppose as legalizing polygyny. Despite his opposition, he legally has two wives: Tatyana, with whom he has two sons; and Nazgul Tolomusheva, who gave birth for son and daughter.
Due to a recent increase in the number of polygamous marriages, proposals were made in Tajikistan to re-legalize polygamy. Tajik women who want to be second wives particularly support decriminalizing polygyny. Mukhiddin Kabiri, the Deputy Chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, says that legislation is unlikely to stop the growth in polygyny. He criticizes the ruling élite for speaking out against the practice while taking more than one wife themselves.
Turkey is the only Muslim country located in the Middle East (and one of two along with Israel) that has abolished polygamy. It was criminalized in 1926 with the adoption of the Turkish Civil Code, part of Atatürk's secularist reforms. Penalties for illegal polygamy are up to 5 years imprisonment. Turkey has long been known for its promotion of secularism, and has introduced measures establishing stricter bars against polygamy; these were passed by the ruling moderate Islamist AK Parti as well. In March 2009, AK Parti effectively banned polygamists from entering or living in the country.
Ali Yüksel, an advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of the ruling moderate Islamist AK Parti, is reportedly polygamous. In 2005, he announced his intention to take a fourth wife. This provoked outrage in the Turkish media and criticism from the AK Parti.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Muslim communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina traditionally practiced polygamy but the practice was last observed in Cazinska Krajina in the early 1950s. Although illegal in the country, polygamy is encouraged by certain religious circles, and the number of practitioners has increased. This trend appears linked with the advent of fundamentalist Wahhabism in the Balkans.
The Bosniak population in neighbouring Raška, Serbia, has also been influenced by this trend in Bosnia. They have suggested creating an entire Islamic jurisdiction including polygamy, but these proposals have been rejected by Serbia. The top cleric, the Mufti of Novi Pazar, Muamer Zukorlić, has taken a second wife.
Polygamy is illegal throughout the Russian Federation but is tolerated in predominantly Muslim republics such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan. Ramzan Kadyrov, President of the Chechen Republic, has been quoted on radio as saying that the depopulation of Chechnya by war justifies legalizing polygamy. Kadyrov has been supported by Nafigallah Ashirov, the Chairman of the Council of Grand Muftis of Russia, who has said that polygamy is already widespread among Muslim communities of the country.
Although non-Muslim Russian populations have historically practiced monogamy, Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky offered to legalize polygyny to encourage population growth and correct the demographic crisis of Russians. Zhirinovsky first proposed to legalize polygyny in 1993, after Kadyrov's declaration that he would introduce an amendment to legalize polygyny for all Russian citizens.
United States and Canada
Polygyny is illegal in the United States and Canada.
Mormon fundamentalism believes in the validity of selected fundamental aspects of Mormonism as taught and practiced in the nineteenth century. Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saint's teachings include plural marriage, a form of polygyny first taught by Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.
In the 21st century, several sources have claimed as many as 60,000 Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints in the United States, with fewer than half of them living in polygamous households. Others have suggested that there may be as few as 20,000 Mormon fundamentalists with only 8,000 to 15,000 practicing polygamy. The largest Mormon fundamentalist groups are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church) and the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB). The FLDS Church is estimated to have 10,000 members residing in the sister cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona; Eldorado, Texas; Westcliffe, Colorado; Mancos, Colorado; Creston and Bountiful, British Columbia; and Pringle, South Dakota.
The Hebrew Bible indicates that polygyny was practiced in ancient Israelite societies. Though the institution was not widely practiced, it was not unusual, and was not prohibited. On occasion polygamy was obligatory. It also is discouraged in the Bible [namely the Mosaic Law commands that kings should not have many wives (Deut. 17:17). When Solomon took 1000 wives and concubines, the Bible cites his polygamy as the reason of the fall of his faith, and for his kingdom being torn in two after his death (1 Kings 11:1-12)]. The Bible mentions approximately forty polygynists, including Abraham, Jacob, Esau, David and King Solomon, with little or no further remark on the institution.
The Torah, the Five Books of Moses; Genesis-Deuteronomy, includes specific regulations on the practice of polygyny. Exodus 21:10 states that multiple marriages are not to diminish the status of the first wife, while Deuteronomy 21:15-17 states that a man must award the inheritance due to a first-born son to the son who was born first, even if he hates that son's mother and likes another wife more; and Deuteronomy 17:17 states that the king shall not have too many wives.
The biblical institution of a levirate marriage was a form of polygyny. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 required a man to marry and support his deceased brother's widow, if she had not yet given birth to a son. The practice has been justified as important for the deceased brother to have an heir to inherit his lands, and to say the prayers for the dead (Kaddish) for him (This practice did not develop until the Middle Ages, however). The practice ensured that the widow was provided for. If the eldest surviving brother refused to marry the widow, she was the responsibility of the next brother, and so on down the family line. These same verses include a provision absolving the brother from such marriage if he did not want to marry the woman. It did require him to accept public shaming.
According to his discussion on YouTube, the American Rabbi Chaim Gruber speculates that the Torah allows a man more than one wife at a time, while a woman is permitted only one husband at a time, as biological in origin: He notes that a man has the ability to simultaneously father children with more than one woman. But, a woman does not generally become simultaneously pregnant from more than one man. Therefore, as "marriage," in strict or broad sense, means a joining together, as the genes of a man can simultaneously be joined together with the genes of multiple women via different conceptions, a man, Rabbi Gruber states, can be married to more than one woman at once. This considered, the rabbi speculates that the polygyny was allowed, "not to say that monogamous marriage isn't ideal," but rather to create a social structure inclusive of this natural phenomenon; "…as a man may be linked to several women at once, it is better to consider these multiple relationships legit, than to criminalize them and put them outside the bounds of normality. Doing so would wrongly shame many as 'living in sin,' and also unjustly condemn countless kids as 'bastards'."
According to Michael Coogan, "[p]olygyny continued to be practiced well into the biblical period, and it is attested among Jews as late as the second century CE." The incidence was limited, however, and it was likely largely restricted to the wealthy. By the first century, both the expense and the practical problems associated with maintaining multiple wives were barriers to the practice, especially for the less wealthy. Since the 11th century, Ashkenazi Jews have followed Rabbenu Gershom's ban on polygyny (except in rare circumstances).
Some Mizrahi (Mideast) Jewish communities (particularly Yemenite Jews and Persian Jews) discontinued polygyny more recently, after they immigrated to countries where it was forbidden or illegal. Israel prohibits polygamy by law. In practice, however, the law is loosely enforced, primarily to avoid interference with Bedouin culture, where polygyny is practiced. Pre-existing polygynous unions among Jews from Arab countries (or other countries where the practice was not prohibited by their tradition and was not illegal) are not subject to this Israeli law. But Mizrahi Jews are not permitted to enter into new polygamous marriages in Israel.
Karaite Jews, who do not adhere to Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah, do not practice polygyny. Karaites interpret Leviticus 18:18 to mean that a man can only take a second wife if his first wife gives her consent and Exodus 21:10 to mean that a man can only take a second wife if he is capable of maintaining the same level of marital duties due to his first wife: namely, food, clothing, and sexual gratification.
Monogamy is assumed as a "general rule" by the New Testament. Polygamy is currently rejected by most Christian denominations. The predominant Christian position is that polygyny is morally wrong, and a number of passages in the New Testament have been cited as discouraging polygyny. For example, a passage quoted is Matthew 19:4-6 (KJV):
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians of Paul the Apostle, which deems fornication reprehensible and mandates marriage as its antidote, does not actually demand monogamy: "But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." (1 Corinthians 7:2) Additional contrasts between 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians on other specific topics are compiled within broader-scale discussions on authorship of the Pauline epistles.
Tertullian, who lived at the turn of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, wrote that marriage is lawful, but polygamy is not:
"We do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world and therefore permitted, yet singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one woman, one rib."
Martin Luther, the German reformer, believed that Christianity did not prohibit polygyny. Writing to Gregor Brück in An Den Kanzler Brück 14 Jan. 1524, Luther said that marrying several wives did not contradict Scripture. ("Ego sane fateor, me non posse prohibere, si quis plures velit uxores ducere, nec repugnat sacris literis.")
In an interview by Time magazine, Michael Coogan said that according to Sola Scriptura, the Fundamentalist Mormons were right about polygamy. He was chief editor for the Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th Edition (as well as the predececessor 3rd Edition). As to why fundamentalist Mormons are "right in a sense" regarding polygyny, he says that, "There is no unequivocal statement in the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible, that says that monogamy should be the norm", and also "If you're going to be a strict literalist, there's nothing wrong with polygamy." The Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th Edition annotates 1 Corinthians 7:2 as "...Paul counsels monogamy..."
The Hindu scriptures acknowledge numerous occasions of polygyny; indeed it was the norm among kings, the nobility and the extremely wealthy. Pandu, the father of the Pandavas in Mahabharata had two wives Kunti and Madri. Krishna, considered one of the incarnations of Vishnu, had eight chief wives. Many other personalities including Rama had only one wife, and while this was regarded as morally exemplary, polygyny remained customary and acceptable among Hindus. It was legally abolished for Hindus in India by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1956.
Some research that show that males living in polygynous marriages may live 12 percent longer. At the same time, a higher prevalence of infectious disease is associated with polygyny. But, polygyny may be practiced where there is a lower male:female ratio; this may result from male infants having increased mortality from infectious diseases.
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- Kenrick, Francis Patrick (1840). "De unitate Matrimonii". Theologiæ dogmaticæ tractus 4. Philadelphia: Typis L. Johnson, In Georgii Vico.
- Cf. Letter to Chancellor Gregory Brück (An Den Kanzler Brück), 1524-01-13, in Dr. Martin Luther's Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken: volständig aus den verschiedenen Ausgaben seiner Werke und Briefe, aus andern Büchern und noch unbenutzten Handschriten gesammelt. From the Wilhelm Martin Leberecht De Wette Collection of Luther's Letters (Berlin: Georg reimer, 1826) vol. 2, p. 459 (Letter DLXXII; Latin text).
- Alexandra Silver What the Bible Has to Say About Sex Time.com
- Michael D. Coogan, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version, Fourth Edition Copyright© Jan 2010 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Publisher Web Site
- This quote is excerpted from the full sentence, "Against the temptation to immorality, Paul counsels monogamy and fidelity in marriage; compare or confer with 1 Thess. 4:3–5."
- Laurence L. Welborn, "The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians", in Michael D. Coogan, ed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version, Fourth Edition 2010:2008
- Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 10, Chapter 9
- "Polygamy is the key to a long life", New Scientist, 19 August 2008
- Nettle, D. (2009). "Ecological influences on human behavioural diversity: A review of recent findings". Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24 (11): 618–611. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2009.05.013.
- Low, Bobbi S. (1990). Marriage systems and pathogen stress in human societies . American Zoologist 30: 325–339. Full text - (Paper reports positive correlation between pathogen stress & polygyny.)
- Korotayev A., Bondarenko D. Polygyny and Democracy: a Cross-Cultural Comparison // Cross-Cultural Research. The Journal of Comparative Social Science. 34/2 (May 2000). pp. 190–208 (Paper reports negative correlation between polygyny & democracy.)
- Fortunato, Laura (2011). Reconstructing the History of Marriage Strategies in Indo-European–Speaking Societies: Monogamy and Polygyny. Human Biology: Vol. 83: Iss. 1, Article 6.
- Patriarch Publishing House
- The Chinese University Of Hong Kong: Anthropology Department: Research Topics
- Hong Kong Anthropological Society: speeches summary
- “Galton’s Asset” and “Flower’s Problem”: Cultural Networks and Cultural Units in Cross-Cultural Research (or, the Male Genital Mutilations and Polygyny in Cross-Cultural Perspective)