How many Wives did he have? Polygyny Polyandry Polygamy: Food for Thought

Why might POLYGAMY be as common as it is?

The general term “polygamy” is often used as is in the form of a man married to many women.  In truth, there are several forms of alternative marriage arrangements in the world.  Three most common ones are when one man is married to many women (Polygyny), one woman is married to many men (Polyandry), or when several men and women are married together to one person (Polygamy).  Most societies (Middle East countries, African Nations, Tibet, South American, and Asian cultures) outside of industrialized western societies, gain economic, better survival, and religious moral values and expressions in such family organized arrangements.  Most societies have reasons for their motivation and social acceptances, which provides benefits to the adults and children.  This ensures a higher survival rate and better living conditions to many groups world wide, than if more societies practices monogamous relationships. 

Besides many of the industrialized western societies, monogamous relationships end in separation, divorce, or unfaithfulness, seeming to lack suitability for durability within those societies.  This could bring up the idea and understanding of monogamous relationships into question since currently the divorce rate in general is raising and marriage decreasing or happens later in life.   

I think polygamy might go beyond cultural beliefs; there were many accounts of evidences that could have supported the idea of polygamy as a better way to ensure human survival and success outside of westernized societies.  Social structure of marriage does become a part of someone’s believes form birth.  If a form of polygamist family structure is all ones knows, it is practiced for a reason; cultural, economical, religious, survival, improved living conditions, land, politics, etc. that then becomes the social “norm” and is accepted for what it is: Family.

What do you think? 

Wikipedia has a good page about Polygamy if you want to further your general understanding of this form of marriage.





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  • Kate  On May 2, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    Intellectually, I understand the arguments for a plural marriage, but I just cannot imagine living in one…as a child or a spouse. I’d also add that western societies might balk at polygamy, but they are redefining marriage and family in terms of gender and sexuality.

  • Making Anthropology Public  On May 3, 2008 at 2:51 am

    Thank you for your view and what you point out about American feeling of any form of polygamy is interesting. The irony of what you say is that in American news articles about the fewer polygamy groups within American are bigger news seeming, then the slightly larger group of people in same sex relationships and families being “married” legally. It seems Americans are more tolerant of these forms of unique family arrangements, outside of the legal label of married, but legally and morally less tolerant of a multiple form of marriages.

    It does make you think a little. Great comment!

  • Chris Thompson  On May 9, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    It seems to me that in the public conscience in the west, polygamy is considered as deviant, perverse, and somehow inequitable for the women involved. Inexplicably Americans seem to think that it is about sex, which it is most decidely not in the vast majority of cases. But if you look around at societies that have or have had polygamy as a family model, polygynous families have been anything but Deviant. Far from it infact, the polygamous families have been the power centers, high status groups, that represent the conservative view. Which gets at the foundation of marriage as a social construct. It is not making sure little susy has a mommy and daddy, it is about social cohesion, social relationships and the framework for society, is it not. We have a twisted idea of what marriage means now of days, in thinking it is all about romantic love as it were. But for most of human history it was about the ties that bind society together. I, the father, give the hand of my daughter(s) in marriage to my friend to bind us further, or to my enemy to make him family. There is therefore a logical succession to polygyny, more brides (concubines) more reciprical social obligations in addition to the status that it provides (since generally only the high in status can support multiple wives and their progeny). This has been the case I would wager since the begining of social stratification where the cheif has had several wives because he must naturaly have more social obligations. Even in marginal communities such as the Mormons in America, it was the high status males that were polygynous; the pillars of their communities. Polyandry I think is an abberration, and has only been documented in previously polygynous societies (I can’t footnote any of this). Polyandry is really of no use as a social construct since that would tend to presuppose a matrilineal society and matrilineal societies tend to care less about who the biological father (to borrow a modern term) is, since the important males in the child’s life are his maternal Uncles of one degree or another.

    Plural Marriage on the other hand would seem to be less about relationships with the society at large and more about the relationships (particularly sexual) of the individuals. Of course modern western societies are generally more concerned about the individual as opposed to the familial unit, so this follows logically. Perhaps if the conservatives among us want to return to a traditional life style they should take up Polygamy.

    As has been noted, many are “experimenting” with different family structures, either by choice or by necessity. Chuck Palahniuk, that honorary Enthnologist, says in Fight Club, “We are a generation of men, raised by women.” Is that by design or because divorce and abandomnet has become so common? What about all the “Brady bunches” around? Frankenfamilies, where monies from one family unit, goes toward Child support of another. Perhaps if everyone got married, divorced, and remarried a couple of times it would all even out?

    Perhaps we need to rethink things, perhaps we need to shake things up. Perhaps that widow or widower, with family in the world acould be a useful, integral part of another plural marriage? Perhaps we should do away with the Patrilineage entirely and trace lineage on the maternal side, so we won’t care who knocks up little susy when she a teen, because the baby will belong to the matrilineage. Ok I’m getting off topic now.

    I didnt’ mean to write a novel here. Interesting topic though, I am enjoying the blog.


  • Merrily McCarthy  On February 12, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    I say, if you are living on Mars and attempting to establish the first Marsian Space Colony…it might be necessary to adjust to a new mode or repopulation or survival. This might be due to length of distance and time constraints, needed to re-establish the decline of a far away human population, again due to some unforseen decline of social lucidity. This resurgence of polygamy and other interelationship variations might be due to the social pressure from earths burden and diminishing carrying capactity for its current struggling 6 Billion people. This could be a consciousness shift of the highest order, but not necessarily aimed for earth atmosphere…it may indicate a psychological readjustment for a far distance future whereby other means of social adaptation will become necessary.

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