My Life as a Polygamist
As told to “Awake!” correspondent in Dahomey
AS A boy I grew up in my father’s compound in Dahomey. It was a well-populated compound, for father had twelve wives and, of course, many children in addition to me. It was a happy, carefree life for us children, for we had lots of playmates within the immediate family. My father was chief of the compound, and demanded the respect of everyone.
But does not the practice of polygamy make for many problems in the household? you may wonder. In answer I would say, Yes, it really does. And I would like to tell you about some of them. You see, I too became a polygamist.
It will help you to understand our life if you know just what a compound is. It is really a plot of land surrounded by a high wall made of red mud that has been baked hard in the sun. Inside are the many little dwellings built of cement blocks or the same red mud. There is one kitchen, usually a shelter with two or three walls. When the weather is good, which is most of the time, cooking is done outdoors.
As the owner of a compound increases the number of his wives he will build a separate dwelling, opening directly onto the compound, for each new wife. Compound life is just like living in a small village. Having one kitchen does not present too much difficulty, since meals are not prepared at any set time. We just ate when we got hungry, and we did not all get hungry at the same time.
By the time I had reached a marriageable age I had already determined to marry only one wife. Why? Because within our own compound I had had plenty of opportunity to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. There did seem to be some advantages to polygamy. Many wives and a large family were a sign of wealth and influence. The family head received honor from a large subject family and was also highly respected in the community. The common view was that the fetish gods had made such a man fruitful.
Yet the compound was at times far from peaceful. I recall many occasions when bitter disputes arose among my father’s wives. Sometimes it would seem that father favored one wife above the others. That could mean serious trouble for the one receiving special favor. Jealousy on the part of the other wives could be dangerous. In fact, I had heard of instances where wives poisoned either their competitor or their husband because of great jealousy.
So it was with the best intentions that I set out to have only one wife. We were very happy together, but, sad to say, she gave me no children. My desire for children was very strong. Thus it came about after two childless years that I felt I must seek a second wife who could produce children for me.
Adding More Wives
On special occasions dances were arranged at which all the villagers would come together for feasting and drinking. An event might last for several nights, during which time offerings would be made to the fetish gods in order to procure their blessing for a fruitful year. At one of these festivals I had the opportunity to arrange the taking of two more wives, rather than one.
First I decided whom to choose. Then, according to our custom, I sent a friend to make the arrangements with the parents of my prospective wives. This included determining the dowry to be paid by the parents of the girls. Also he must convince them of the good qualities of the husband-to-be. My new fathers-in-law, as chiefs in their own families, would include the son-in-law as subject to them. Besides receiving the dowry from them, the bridegroom can be required to do work for them and later even support them if requested.
The arrangements all being completed, a day is set for the final ceremony and then the parents may tell their daughters all about it. The daughters may not know anything about the matter until a few days prior to the marriage. They do not object, however, for they want a husband and a family, and so are content to have their parents handle everything for them. In the larger cities this custom is changing, but in the villages it still prevails. Courting and engagements are not the custom.
Soon my home and my compound got to be much like my father’s. As I gained influence and respect in the community I was no longer satisfied even with three wives. I purchased two more. And I began to see a repetition of circumstances. Now I could discover for myself how difficult it is to treat all wives impartially. Jealousies arose, and there was much fighting over small matters in my compound.
For example, when a relative of one of my wives died, I had to purchase a goat to offer as a sacrifice, in accordance with custom. But it must not be a better goat than had been purchased for the relative of another of my wives. If I showed just a little favor to one wife, the others would make life unbearable for her. The bickering and quarreling often exasperated me. Because of the lack of peace at home, I began looking for association with other women who did not become my wives. Later, this course was to become a real problem to me.
No one in our village ever thought of polygamy as being immoral. Even having relations with other, unmarried girls was not viewed as being bad. Many girls had one or two babies prior to marriage. Rather than hindering them from gaining a husband, it was often a help, for men could see that they were capable of producing children.
Do you wonder what became of all those children? Well, when one understands that a large family is the desirable thing, it is easy to see why a single girl’s parents would welcome such additions to their own family. However, after a girl is married the situation is changed. The husband will not tolerate his wives’ going with other men.
Religion and Polygamy
There were a number of religions in our community. In addition to our ancient fetish religion there were a large Catholic church and a number of Protestant sects, though these latter were quite small. These churches never made any mention of polygamy. Most of those attending them still practiced fetishism and polygamy, and yet were in good standing in the church.
At first I never attended the churches, though I always had reverence for the Bible. But then one day the priest told me I would never go to heaven since I was not baptized. This worried me, so I got baptized as a Catholic. For many years I continued as a good member of the church, though still a polygamist and a practicer of the fetish religion.
Then, in 1947, I first saw one of the publications of the Watch Tower Society. One of my friends had obtained the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” Since he no longer wanted it, I made a trade with him for it, for I had wanted to learn more about the Bible. Well, after reading that book I was convinced that it was in harmony with the Bible’s teaching. I could see that all the churches in our community were no different from the fetish religion, as far as doing what the Bible commanded was concerned.
I stopped attending the church and took less and less interest in the fetish religion. But I went no farther, for I could see that the things I was learning from the Bible would require me to make some big changes in my life. I did not want to break away from all the girl friends I had. Thus a number of years passed.
True Freedom Comes
Then one day some Christian witnesses of Jehovah were working from house to house in our town, and were arrested and jailed. This really impressed me. Here were surely the true Christians, willing to endure persecution in order to preach the Bible’s message! I decided that it was time for me to do something, even if it meant making big changes in my life.
A Bible study was started with all of my family and soon after, in 1960, I put away all but one of my wives and determined to dedicate my life to Jehovah. When I had previously joined the Catholic church, no questions were raised as to the old fetish religion. But I soon found that becoming one of Jehovah’s witnesses was an entirely different matter. I had to conform my life to the Bible’s requirements. Yet the joy of knowing I was really serving the true God was strengthening.
What became of my other four wives? And what about all my children? I am happy to say that two of my former wives became Witnesses also, dedicating their lives to Jehovah God. The children all remained with me, and now two of them are full-time ministers, while six are also dedicated and serving the interests of God’s kingdom with the local congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses. It also made me very happy to arrange for the youngest of my former wives to marry a full-time minister. Today they are serving as traveling representatives of the Watch Tower Society.
Truly, I have been made free. No longer am I subject to religious superstitions or teachings that water down the Bible’s requirements. My conscience is clear because I am following Jesus’ counsel to have only one wife. (Mark 10:6-9) I know that I am conforming to the Lord’s arrangement for responsible Christians.—1 Tim. 3:2.
More than that, I find in my case that the Lord Jesus’ promise at Mark 10:29, 30 is really fulfilled. My family is much larger than I could ever have hoped. Everywhere I have brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and also many children. How? Because Jehovah God has shown mercy to me and made me part of his grand earthly family that is dwelling together in true peace.
Today I live in my home with just one wife. Now it is a real joy to return to my home, where there is peace—peace that comes from following God’s Word. True, I am no longer a “big” man with great influence in the community. Yet what influence I do have I am happy to use to help others come to know and serve the true God and gain spiritual freedom.
I find great joy and peace of mind in sharing my happiness with others in the community. Some have already begun to share this happiness of being part of Jehovah’s grand family in which there are no jealousy and no loose moral attitudes. It is my earnest hope that I can still help many more to genuine freedom in God’s congregation before Jehovah brings to an end all who cling to customs not in harmony with his perfect will.
[Picture on page 13]
A polygamist soon discovers how difficult it is to treat all wives impartially; jealousies arise