Polygamy - Kathy FitzGerald

It is best to be the first wife

the first wife professes
sitting on her stool,
her full and rounded hips
mushrooming over the sides.
His first love,
she resembles a rock
that stands above a river bed
erupting memories of long ago
and smoothing them like
pillows of fufu.

I prefer being second
the second wife proclaims,
her youth still standing up
to the weight of motherhood
and water jugs and washing days.
She, a tree blowing in the wind
of yesterday and today,
still holds her branches
high and wide,
perpetually looking
back and forth.

And the third one
young and hardened by her power
remains silent. For she knows
she is the last one.
She knows the faucet
of his manhood
runs slower
as the hours coarse through his veins.
She leans against the cool cement wall
one slender leg tucked under her,
a black cloaked flamingo—
each feather
a soft propeller of freedom
she guards like an unhatched egg.


L S said...

Kathy, welcome.

Somehow I think of this as a list poem of sorts, detailing each wife's relationship with the husband in question.

I'm fascinated that you give the first two wives each a voice, though not the third. Yet in the end, she may be the only one who comes out (after his death), young enough to marry. Though each woman stakes out a position for herself the real power lies with the man. Their lives revolve around him, not the other way round.

The image of the third wife as a black cloaked flamingo waiting out her freedom, I find most striking. Flamingoes have to survive in very specific environments, like natron lakes, good for them but hostile to other birds. Everything about them is unusual, from their diet of blue green algae to their pink. But it is a double edged sword, for the flamingo would become extinct if its habitat disappears. This woman derives her power from her current situation, a young woman hitched to an old man, and she stands to lose all that at his death.

All said and done, nobody comes out of polygamy a winner, and its practice in Africa has been responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS, though not its cause.

I like the line breaks, the enjambments, and the rather startling imagery. Maybe I'll get back to these later.


Kathleen said...

The situation of all three wives varies with the polygamousmany cultures and the distance in years between the wives, their relationship before marriage, whether their societies, families and countries are matriarchal, patriarchal.

The last wife has a lot of care giving to do before she survives the
other members in the marriage and inherits the money, if her countries laws work that way.

They often don't.

Darko Antwi said...


Readings from the legitimate collections of Adjei, Foster, Julian, Martin, Mutombo, Prince and other OGOV poets - over the couple of years - will be a candor to relish, infinitely.

Yet I believe there's much more brilliance in their authorship, which remain undiscovered. So in a bid to tap into their full potential, there lies the need to interact with the wider world of poetry.

May I be emphatic to say that; it leaves them with no better approach than to bond (form relationships) with writers from diverse backgrounds - and learn from their resource, whatever means intimate.

I'm therefore glad that Kathy, upon all bridal humility, has walked-in with this grand title. L.S has already served her the most befitting of appreciations. That's enough of a calabash of water.

Since the publishers of OGOV have wooed-in this foreign beauty, I pray our poets to take advantage of their curtesy and try a crossbreed. We need some poetic hybrids. Don't we?

By adopting other ways of writing, we can still maintain the core of our artistic DNA - and yet add more characteristics to its biochemistry.

I will prescibe polygamy to some Ghanaian poets who stick only to conventions. Let's marry another form or style. Let's be inter-culturally influenced like Kathy, whom I deem configurably dynamic.

I'm still looking for a suitor!

ImageNations said...

LS I strongly oppose your penultimate paragraph. Polygamy is never responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS. In polygamy, the individual (man) marries more wives. It does not involve extra-marital affairs. You marry...you don't cheat. It is nothing like this present day sycophantic marriages where both parties cheat like it's nobody business, but still keep on with the marriage. It is a facade.

Polygamy was never seen as bad until the advent of the 'propagandists' of homosexuality and lesbianism. At any given time, I would allow my children to be polygamous than to engage in same sex marriage. In fact I would kill him first.

It is my hope that you come to an understanding that polygamy has been with us for many many years and AIDS is recent, hence that thesis you are putting out is absolutely incorrect.

L S said...

Polygamy is never responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Nana, when I threw this bait I knew someone would take it. The combination of multiple partner sexual activity, with the inability/powerlessness of women to ensure that their partners wear condoms has contributed to the rapid spread of AIDS in Africa.

It is my hope that you come to an understanding that polygamy has been with us for many many years and AIDS is recent, hence that thesis you are putting out is absolutely incorrect.

I guess you could argue in the same vein that there's nothing wrong with prostitution because it has been with us for a long time, probably even longer than polygamy.

In polygamy, the individual (man) marries more wives. It does not involve extra-marital affairs. You marry...you don't cheat.

Really, look around in Ghana, or indeed any part of sub Saharan Africa, where polygamy is legal. Can you say with all certainty that none of the men with multiple wives sleep with other women outside of their many marriages?

Polygamy was never seen as bad until the advent of the 'propagandists' of homosexuality and lesbianism.

It was not seen as bad because those at a disadvantage, the women, were not allowed to speak out against it. As for your views on homosexuality, I'm not sure what to say about it.

I never said polygamy causes HIV/AIDS. I said it is responsible for its spread on the continent.

Anonymous said...

The heart of the matter for me is that polgygamy---seems to be an accepted and institutionalised form of modern slavery in many cases.
Instead of independance and sisterhood the women are forced to compete for the mans favour.Futhermore--the women is often totally economically dependant---a type oc chattel--often an OBJECT rarely a Subject.That is the nitty-gritty of it.Silverzorro

Darko Antwi said...

L.S, I was very near opposition. Having my own doubts,I had in mind to side with Nana. So far, your point is well-explained. And to my satisfaction, I'm compelled to coil into my shells.

It's apparent. I wouldn't need some clinical figures to believe its responsibility (contribution)to the spread of the disease in the said region.

ImageNations said...

Hi LS and others, I am not sure if you have conducted studies into the advent of polygamy in African culture. Presently when agricultural economists like us conduct researches into adoption of any technology we use 'labour size' as a variable. why? because we know that a farmers' labour size determines what he does on his farm. Hence, in times past, many men were polygamous to have enough helping hand on his farm. In most situations some women even ask the man to marry another wife because the job to be done is too much.

Present day civilisation brought to us monogamy and cheating (i would repeat this). I don't think there are enough polygamous marriages around for you to say with all certainty that such men cheat outside marriage. What I have read, seen and know is that in polygamous marriages the men don't cheat and even if they do it is not as rampant as it is today. We see everything western as civilised yet in imitating them we begin to forget about the fallouts.

What most people know about polygamous marriages are what the western books and the NGOs say. Nothing more, nothing less. We see the breakdown of the extended family system and we are happy but quick to complain about streetism.

I would say again, in polygamous marriages, men don't cheat as much as they do these days. It was even an eyesore, unlike today where it has become a sport...the man who cheats the most gets the most appellations. When you marry do you protect yourself? I can be certain to say that AIDS continue to spread more because men cheats not because they marry more than one.

So let me say this...an individual in a polygamous marriage is different from a prostitute. Just say plainly that it is economically good to be monogamous but as to it being responsible for the spread of AIDS/HIV I highly disagree.

We have remained blinded to ourselves and have labeled every culture of the whiteman as civilisation such that today people can proudly say they are gays.... not in my world.

ImageNations said...

Can you also say that since monogamous men cheat on their wives, then monogamy is responsible for the spread of HIV? Lets facet the fact...it is not marriage (mono or poly) that spreads AIDS it is unprotected cheating and you must easily accept this. I understand that you might be a christian and a woman and would have your own reservations but don't judge with your passions.

Prince Kwasi Mensah said...

I chose to stay out of this discussion but I think some things cannot go on unanswered. First of all, polygamy is the product of male chauvinism. Why can’t a woman have multiple husbands? Why does it only make sense if it is done by a man? Nana, you stated that polygamy helps ‘the labor size’ and guess who benefits from that labor size: the man. I understand you have done research about agricultural economy in tangent to polygamy but that does not excuse the fact that it is the least scrupulous way of treating women. Please do not compartmentalize this argument. Polygamy is an issue that has done much harm to the African psyche than anything else. The notion that women and children are dispensable should be obnoxious to the learned ear. Traditions that do not make sense must be gotten rid of. Let me state this for the record: the one-man, one-wife concept is not a Western concept. It was practiced in ancient Egypt, so let’s stop excusing bad tradition with the oft-beaten drum of keeping our culture pristine. One fact about culture is that if it is not dynamic, it dies. Just because our ancestors married a lot of women does not give us the carte blanche to do that to our women. Remember, our ancestors were of another epoch, another set of challenges, another frame of thought and we are not. Of course, access to a lot of women is everyman’s sick fantasy. Even Solomon tried that with a thousand women and you know the cost of his actions: wayward children and a lost kingdom.

Polygamy has nothing to do with the ideal family system. It is an abstraction from the ideal. The family consists of a father, mother and children. Nowhere has an ideal family consisted of a father, ten mothers and forty-three children. What kind of wahala is this?, my Nigerian neighbors would ask. There was a time I run into a friend of mine whose father remembered him not by his name but by his mother’s name. That was so hurting to my friend. He thought his dad would remember his name, for goodness’ sake. What is the worth of siring all these children without being a father to them? My friend vowed not to marry more than one wife. And do you know that polygamy legitimizes promiscuity for younger men? They think if Dada has twelve wives, why is it wrong for them to have four girlfriends at a time? Let’s talk cause and effect, Nana. Let’s talk about what causes that warped psychology that entitles young men and women to put their futures at risk? Polygamous fathers cannot even speak to their kids about fidelity and it is a sad reality. So Nana, let us not defend some cultural practices just because they have been in existence before us. We need to become new and improved versions of our ancestors: we have to improve wherever they excelled and put a stop to whatever flaws they had.

Studies or not, anything wrong is wrong. Please do not aestheticize or rationalize this redundant concept of polygamy. I respect your beliefs if you see no wrong in polygamy but let it call a spade, a spade, not a big spoon. There were cheaters in ancient times, Nana. Read William Shakespeare’s ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ History is rampant with such stories. It was worse off than today. Actually, it was accepted and practiced in temples. Sex was a free-for-all affair in ancient empires. The truth is that we, as the modern civilization, want to copy from the mistakes of the past. We want to do the very things that brought down all the great empires: sexual permissiveness, social imbalance and senility of law. In Africa of yore, chiefs raped young women in a practice called ‘Ahatwe’. Research that. Talk about a great way of spreading diseases.
For your information, I am a HIV/AIDS Treatment Advocate and studies upon studies have shown that a person is more likely to contract HIV/AIDS in a polygamous setting than in a monogamous one. The truth is that both marriage arrangements cannot stop a man or woman from cheating. Nobody is responsible for anyone’s sexuality because all of us have a conscience and a will. We chose how we use our private parts and, in my opinion, only God can judge this because I, personally, think the body is a temple that should not be desecrated on altars of unadulterated conduct. You know, the biggest contributor to HIV/AIDS is sexual promiscuity and polygamy grants promiscuity the façade of matrimony. Ask any woman in a polygamous arrangement if she liked things as they are and a huge percentage will say no.
The younger generation of Africans cannot afford to continue our fathers’ approach to women. A woman is a human being with a mind, body and spirit. She should be left alone to make decisions for herself. I am frustrated with new ways we, men, try to control women. It is counter-productive to our struggle. Let us remember our heritage was saved by women such as Juaben Serwaa, Yaa Asantewaa and Dede Okai. If a bunch of women want to spend the rest of their lives with one man, that’s their problem . However, society should not force them into it.
In the spirit of intelligent discussion, I will pause for your responses. I respect everyone’s opinion and do seek to understand where you are coming from. In the end, the Africa we create shall be the Africa we live in. In conclusion, as a father, ask yourself this question, would you want your daughter to become someone’s fourth wife? Yes or no.

ImageNations said...

"I respect everyone’s opinion and do seek to understand where you are coming from".

Anonymous said...

Well--short and sweet--thanks Prince Mensah-for your enlightened--contribution--Silvezorro.

Anonymous said...

'In the end, the Africa we create shall be the Africa we live in.'

ImageNations said...

In this discussion what I argued for is that polygamy is not responsible for the spread of HIV. Each individual on this forum or blog would have his or her opinion. But we should be careful when we associate something to something that isn't true. You have stated all the negatives about polygamy.

Let's be careful in dealing with our own passions and thoughts and not make our thoughts the facts for they are not and can never be. I am not here to argue or to challenge people if they express opinions varied to mine. But let's be circumspect with our words. Polygamy is not responsible for the spread of AIDS as much as rainfall is not responsible for the spread of Malaria...it is when the water becomes stagnant and breeds mosquitoes...it is when people have unprotected sex with individuals who are infected or when one gets himself cut by an infected sharp object.

I do not doubt your knowledge on the HIV/AIDS subject but I have worked in that area before, performing a comparative analyses of adolescent sexual risk-taking activities in Ghana and Uganda using cross-sectional national data. I read a lot into the disease: the causes and the effects.

You asked whether I would let my daughter become a third or fourth wife. Definitely not! and that is not because of it being responsible for the spread of HIV. I would not allow my daughter to be the third or fourth wife in the same way I would not allow my daughter to marry a lazy man or perhaps even marry from certain families. It would be a decision free from the core of this discussion.

Can you prevent your daughter from becoming the third boyfriend of another guy? You can't prevent that...

In effect, in talking about AIDS let us speak to the issue. If you marry more than one and do not have unprotected sex outside marriage and all your and you yourself are not infected, believe you me you would not have AIDS. However, if you cheat outside marriage without protection you would contract the disease and aid its spread. This is so for all forms of relationships: mono, poly, homo and hetero.

You may have your own prejudices about the practice (and I would not engage in it) but let not your prejudices distort this discussion.

Arrest my case. This is the end of my contribution.

Anonymous said...

In the end, the Africa we create shall be the Africa we live in

Darko Antwi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darko Antwi said...


Dear Nana, I hope you don't take exit of this site too soon. Let's keep learning from each other.

keep visiting - because your wish must have come true:In your profile, you stated that you are 'interested in meeting anybody of sound mind'. And here you are; warming-up with these dear comrades:

They are cool, sharp and resourceful - except that you have found some of their comments to be passion-possessed and prejudicial. Isn't your label is a bit strange? I can imagine some readers thinking: 'it's too odd',in their disbelief.

If you would have time to look at their analysis / reasons again, by then you will realise that the possible reverse of your remarks will be fair.

I consider contradictions and ambiguities within a writer's script as pardonable errors. But eavasiness is something else to me.

Thank you.

Darko Antwi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Prince Kwasi Mensah said...

Nana, you are giving a dog a bad name in order to get the perfect excuse to hang it. No one is prejudiced against polygamy. I have relatives who are in polygamous relations and that is what works for them. I am only voicing an opinion as you did and opinion is not prejudice or misguided passion per se.

This is a forum of open mindedness and each person should be able to see where the others are coming from. You know, I can also accuse you of the same things you are accusing others of; which is a prejudice against anything that does not make sense to you. This is our chance to call things as they are and that is not prejudice. It's like saying murder is wrong while another person argues that murders keep the human population in check.

If we can ever change Africa for the better, we must improve the art of being receptive to fresh ways of doing things without pushing them aside as proclamations of passion.

You use stats and facts to support your position but you refuse to accept the other facts that point to the contrary. HIV/AIDS, infidelity and human insincerity has been in existence since the creation. Neither polygamy, polyandry, monogamy, oligamy or whatever arrangement is the panacea to promiscuity.

The crux of our disagreement is this: whether some of our cultural practices work or not. That has always been a flashpoint between our people. Some Africans love to stick to traditions; others want to introduce new ideas. This ideological tug of wag would be healthy, if and only if, each side respects the need to stay dynamic as a people. I want to thank you for your opinions and do hope to see more of your poetry. We need to have more heated, and sensible, discussions such as this one.

Prince Kwasi Mensah said...

Correction: HIV/AIDS is a modern epidemic. Human insincerity and infidelity is as old as the earth.

L S said...

Nana, I believe others have answered this better than I ever could, so I won't go there.

But you seem to have moved the goalpost quite a bit. From what I can tell, you're quick to label those who disagree as Western stooges. Who ever said opposing polygamy is a denial of one's Africanness?

Monogamy is not an invention of modern civilisation. There are several biblical characters, even in the OT, who remained married to single women, when the West as we know it now did not exist.

Again I never attributed the cause HIV/AIDS to polygamy. Rather I cited the latter as a reason why the disease has spread across Africa. If one person in a polygamous relationship gets the disease, the rest, if they remain in the relationship would contract it as well. If you fail to acknowledge that, then you're in denial about a disease that is infecting and killing off people in the prime of their lives.

You accuse others of being prejudiced, and yet display what seems to be intolerant views about gay people. A person's sexual orientation should remain a matter of conscience, between him and whatever God he/she worships.

But back to the poetry.

Each wife invents or dwells on what makes her relationship with the husband unique. Perhaps, the second wife is the one I pity most. Does she look back or forward? Why on earth is she in this relationship? Did she go into this marriage thinking she'll end up being the favoured one, only to find herself caught between several places and no where at all?

If there's anything I take from this poem at all(among others), I believe it is the way it opens up the world of the women who are in this kind of relationship, with no power of their own except what ever fictional powers they attribute to themselves, but I may also be reading too much into the poem.


Darko Antwi said...

Sorry for my double post. It's accidental. I also regret the unwanted helping verb somewhere in the 3rd paragraph, and an 'evasive' spelling- owing to my poor proof-reading habit.

Obeng Apraku said...

'In the end, the Africa we create shall be the Africa we live in.'....wise sayingz of a tru poet...i love dis site, man!...tru dat!

ImageNations said...

Dear All I am not peeved and sorry if any of you have been disturbed by my comments.

I don't think I have shifted the post. What LS said was 'polygamy is responsible for the spread of HIV' and as you correctly pointed out it is infidelity not the different types of marriages.

If you want us to talk about the parts of our culture that has to be reviewed that is a different issue and very different from what LS said. Perhaps we were arguing from different angles. I won't argue with you (Prince) if you argue that we must review certains aspects of our culture. Perfect! But if you say that it is the responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS that's where I have a problem. I would not engage in polygamy not because it spreads AIDS. Your arguments when taken from the angle of cultural revival has merits and that was not the crux of the matter.

Hope you get my point.

PS: I did not say I want to leave this forum, I said I did not want to continue with this discussion.

Also I have not called anybody European/western stooges. I respect your opinions and would forever appreciate it.

A minor correction (Prince) perhaps I can be called a bigot for this (laugh for me): AIDS has not been in existence since creation. Has it? Educate me

Prince Kwasi Mensah said...

Nana, didn't you see my correction?....lol. At least, I admit my simple mistakes. There is nothing written in stone, you know.

Thanks for being a good sport. It is always good to tango ideas.

Obeng Apraku said...

i got the chance 2 read yr book of poetry titled 'i shall, i will, i can' (poetry inspired by barack obama). it wuz powerful, man. thanks for the good work, Prince! keep it up!

ImageNations said...

Hi Prince, missed it...how can I? We all are fallible.

ImageNations said...

FINALLY: This discussion is about ending and by tomorrow we would get a new post...which I hope would spark a different form of discussion. Not one that would be easily accepted by all.

To end this I would make some brief statements. The majority (more than 80%) of AIDS infections is in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and this excludes Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia. With the exception of Libya these countries are not part of the AU (African Union). These countries together with other Arabic States such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Indonesia are known to practice polygamy since it is permitted by their religion. Yet these Arabian countries do not have the highest AIDS infections. Hence, the point that polygamy is responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS does not fetch.

The problem of AIDS in Africa is deep. In Uganda, market women who do not have money to pay for the transport of their commodities to the market centers willingly pay with sex. This was endemic in many aspects of their life. Besides, they never did believe that the disease exists until it metamorphosed into an epidemic and started killing people like flies. I had this Zimbabwean who told me that there are spots in that country where lovers meet, married or unmarried. From there on they indulge themselves in indiscriminate sex (definitely without protection, they did not believe in it).

AIDS is deadly and kills...fidelity is one of the main solutions to solving it...though protection also works but it is not 100 per cent safe.

Prince Kwasi Mensah said...

Thanks, Kathy for a poem that got us all talking!

Rob Taylor said...

Hi all,

Another interesting discussion this week - thank you all for your roles in really boosting the activity in our comment sections over the recent months. This is something that I had always hoped for on OGOV, and so I'm very pleased to see it happening.

That said, I do think we are having a couple growing pains that I would like to take a moment to address:

1. Respect: I'm generally not one to censor or monitor comment sections - generally speaking, most anything goes. Hateful or violent language towards any individual or group, however, crosses the line. A few comments made recently have come very close to that line, or have crossed it.

I have not deleted any comments and do not plan to do so in the future - but if the situation worsens I many have to. Let's work together to avoid that by being thoughtful and respectful at all times - and collectively calling people to task when they fail to do so (I know many of you are doing this already, and I thank you for that).

2. Relevance: As has been demonstrated in recent weeks, OGOV is not only a place for discussing poems, but also for dicussing the issues that poems present. Still, let's not forget that this is a poetry site and that the issue up for discussion was sparked by a particular work of art by a particular artist.

Let's respect that work by keeping one eye on the poem at all times, no?

It's easy to get wrapped up in a discussion or disagreement and take it to places that have little connection with the original topic, I know - but remember, these comments appear beneath someone's work of art, not on some generic message board!

Another concern of mine in this regard: I have found on other blogs and forums that when an argument between a few people gets too heated, others back away and don't comment. This may be fine on a political forum, but when our discussions make some too uncomfortable to comment on the poem, I think we are doing a discervice to both poem and poet. This may or may not be happening yet, but it is something to think about.

As a possible solution to this problem, perhaps we could use the two comment sections on each week's posts more intentionally. This week, we have 29 comments (so far) on the poem itself, but only 1 comment on the Author Profile.

Comments on the poem itself could be made in the comment section for the poem, while comments on issues arising from the poem could be made in the "Author Profile" section. I think this would help clear up our comment sections and also give space for commentors inhibited by the political discussion.

What do others think of this idea? No matter what, I look forward to these discussions continuing long into the future!

Darko Antwi said...

Thank you Rob. It's noteworthy.

Adjei Agyei-Baah said...

Will be giving my comment later.Have been away for a while.Think polygamy like chieftancy is worth debatable.

Anonymous said...

One thought that crossed my mind--fledgling poets might feel discouraged,frightened off or uncomfortable--by running the risk of being caught in all this intellectual--crossfire--Silverzorro.

Patrick Asiamah said...

dis site is deep! i am proud of my ppl...deep thought, smart debate...i luv it...will spread de word 'bout dis site....

L S said...

Guys, I apologise for foaming at the mouth earlier. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again.


ImageNations said...

I am sorry for all these...perhaps I shouldn't have started this discussion. Next time, I promise, I would concentrate on the poem and leave all other issues outstanding.

Anonymous said...

Some Africans are Christians.
Mormons are christians.
African are free to be Mormons : http://mormonfundamentalism.org
And they have can be Polygamous : http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=Bonratay#g/u
This is the truth like Abraham, Moïse, David, Salomon, Jacob, Esaü, Gédéon, Jeroboam, Lémec, Manassé, Osée, Saül, Siméon, Esdras, Abija... in the Bible.

Anonymous said...

i'm new... anticipation to despatch round more regularly!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your very beautiful poem. I don't think anything can be said about polygamy as though generalities could apply to every culture, tribe, lineage,
history. As in any family system, you have angels and deamons . But it is an efficient way to distribute male wealth to women, or restore a culture decimated by genocide. It makes babies and plenty of them and whether this is good or bad depends on infant mortality, the feasibility of a woman leaving with her children and the means to support them. Must the woman obey or be punished? In such cases no marriage is a good thing.