Entries in polygamy (3)


“Will You be My Bonus Wife?” The Practice of Marrying Sisters in Malawi

Recently I was in Malawi to train a team of field workers to conduct a large-scale survey on HIV prevention behavior. Before such an international trip, I often get a lot of questions regarding the landscape or local culture of my destination from people who are not familiar with my work or the part of the world I happen to be visiting. Most recently, an acquaintance asked me several questions about multiple sexual partnerships and polygamy in Malawi. “Are people really okay with having multiple partners? Even the women? Even married people?” So during my uneventful nights in a remote hotel on top of a mountain in Malawi’s southern region, I did some reading on local marriage customs. Almost as if thoughts were planted by my acquaintance, I came across a concept I was unfamiliar with—the “bonus wife” (mbirigha or nthena in Chichewa, the local language).

In several Malawian cultures, a man acquires a “bonus wife” when he marries the younger sister or niece of his current wife.

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“Tulizana!”: Taming Sexual Networks in Tanzania

There has been a lot of talk in the American media recently about a perhaps more “evolved” form of love in which people have open or multiple relationships—polyamory. Tanzanians have a history of this practice through polygynous practices (having multiple wives), which is rooted in the Bantu tradition. In fact, polygyny is permitted for up to 4 wives in Tanzania, with the permission of the first wife.

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Big Love for Everyone: Loving and Committing to More than One Romantic Partner

Although plural marriages are illegal in the U.S. and many westernized countries, they are legal in over 850 different societies, and consensual non-monogamy (e.g., open marriage à la Newt Gingrich, polyamory, swinging, and other sorts of arrangements) are becoming increasingly popular. TV networks have tapped into this interest: Big Love and Sister Wives, fictional and reality TV series on HBO and TLC, respectively, show the challenges of living in a plural marriage in the United States.

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