A Polygamist Chooses a Better Heritage
As told to “Awake!” correspondent in Zaïre
EVER since my youth I have been interested in preparing a worthwhile heritage to pass on to my children. Over the years, however, my outlook on life has changed greatly, and yet my desire to prepare something of value for my family is still strong. Because I was born in a small village in the heart of tropical Africa, my way of life is probably quite different from yours.
Village life for a child in Africa affords much opportunity to meditate on one’s future. When night had enveloped the last glimmer of day, we youngsters would sit outside our huts with our parents. The night was full of sounds, but it was not the chirping of crickets or the croaking of frogs that held our attention. Grouped around a wood fire awaiting the invitation of slumber, the older folk would be talking. This was not the time for youths to speak, but, rather, to listen. What a wealth of knowledge we acquired in this way! The older ones would relate incidents that took place while they were hunting, recite folklore and expound innumerable proverbs, appropriate to all sorts of situations in life. At moments like these I would ask myself, “What will I do with my life?”
My Projects for the Future
For my people, although money is important, a name or reputation is of far greater value. A man who makes a name for himself is respected, even after his death. I too desired to acquire for myself a name that would be remembered, and this seemed to me to be a worthwhile heritage to pass on to my children. For one to gain fame and prestige in the community, children are of paramount importance among the Bantu people. It is hoped that in future generations people will point to one’s offspring and say: “Ah! These are the children of So-and-So.” In fact, in our tribe, a man who has no children is asked this somewhat contemptuous question: “Neushiye tshinyi?” which means, in effect, “Who will perpetuate your name?” (Literally, “What will you leave?”) A man who has no children to carry on his name, even though he might be very rich, is considered valueless in the eyes of the community. To the way of thinking of the Bantu people, such a man has been cursed. That my name should never be obliterated, even after my death, I decided to have many children. I wanted to make sure of my “heritage.”
My own father was a polygamist, although he had not chosen this kind of marriage for himself. How, then, did it come about? Our tribal rules require the brothers of a dead man to take the widow (or widows) of their brother. Since the brothers of my father died, he inherited three wives.
In general, the Bantus consider women to be a source of financial enrichment to the family, and so a man with several wives gains prominence in the community. Knowing something about the work of an industrious wife can help you to appreciate how she brings material benefits to the household. Her work begins at daybreak, when she must assure herself that the family’s needs for water are met. She may have to make several trips to a water source at the bottom of a steep ravine, each time returning with a basin of water balanced on her head. With the water drawn, the village women set about cultivating their fields, working with crude hand hoes in the already hot morning sun. Their industriousness will be rewarded by a harvest of manioc (cassava), groundnuts, maize, sweet potatoes, beans, yams, plantains, bananas and pineapples. With nine months of rainy weather and a dry season of only three months, the growing season for many of the fruits and vegetables extends for most of the year. A wife who works diligently will have a surplus of food that she can sell at the market, in this way adding to the revenue of the family.
It is not only the wife or wives who contribute to the wealth of the family; the children also do so. How? As in many parts of the world, the parents of a young woman ask a bride price or dowry of the man who is going to take their daughter in marriage. In my tribe this bride price usually comprises a sum of money, a goat, chickens and clothing, depending on the financial means of the family. The money, which is for the father of the girl, is considered to be a contribution toward the expenses of the family in the upbringing of their daughter. The articles of clothing are a gift to the mother of the girl for having guarded the virginity of the daughter up until her marriage. What about the goat and chickens? They are kept as an investment. They can always be slaughtered or sold later if the family has the need to raise some money quickly. From the Bantu point of view, now that the daughter has left her own family, she will be enriching the family of her husband by bearing children to his name. So why not ask a bride price? The Bantus feel that she is worth it.
Despite the evident material advantages of a large family from a polygamous marriage, my interest in having many children was kindled chiefly by that desire acquired from childhood, to assure a name and a worthwhile heritage for myself and my family. With such a project in mind I decided to marry several wives, but not all at the same time. My idea was to marry a wife, and then when she had ceased to give birth to any more children I would send her away and marry another, and so forth. However, little did I know that my plans would not be realized as I had envisioned.
Life as a Polygamist Begins
When I became a young man, I left the village where I had been raised and I started out in the trade of carpentry. Sometime later I took my first wife in marriage, and within a year she had borne my first child. I felt satisfied as I saw my projects for the future begin to crystallize. Though my wife continued to bear me children, about two years later I decided to marry a second wife.
My first wife was not at all in agreement with this intrusion affecting her hitherto unchallenged status in the household. Needless to say, the first wife never is happy about the newcomer who now shares her husband’s affection. Only in the case where the first wife has proved to be barren will she accede resignedly to a second wife’s arrival. Whatever the case may be, however, the mother of the second wife will not have failed to prepare her daughter for life as a secondary wife. For example, she will have taught her daughter that she must consider the first wife as her “mother.” Henceforth it will be from her new “mother” that she will have to learn the household chores, and so forth. The first wife will give her washing to do, send her to the market to buy food and assign her to perform many other tasks.
Although they are reluctant partners, it is considered essential that peace should reign between the two wives so that their husband will enjoy good health and a long life. If there are conflicts between the wives, it is feared, evil spirits will take advantage of the situation in order to take away the husband’s life.
Unfortunately there was no such peace in my marriage. Jealousy and squabbles were the order of the day. Because of continual tension between myself and the two women my health declined and I fell seriously ill. My first wife now became convinced that it was the second wife who was responsible for my sickness, and from that time onward she considered her to be a sorceress. Of course, neither one of my wives wished to be blamed for my sickness, so each one of them wanted to go to the fetish priest in order to absolve herself of responsibility for my condition. This resulted in an amusing episode, for neither one dared to visit the fetish priest for fear of being seen by others who would conclude that she had had a spell cast on me!
In time, however, I recovered, and, later, after eight years of marriage to my second wife, I introduced a third woman into my marriage. My desire was still that I might ensure a lasting heritage for myself, a name that would never be blotted out. But contrary to my initial plans, instead of sending away my first and second wives, I allowed them to remain. Do you think that this decision contributed to peace in the household? It did just the opposite! If there were troubles when there were just two women in the house, you can imagine what happened when I introduced the latest rival into the home, she being the youngest of them all. Understandably, my first wife felt just about completely neglected when the third wife appeared on the scene. On the other hand, the latest wife, confident in her youthful attractiveness, put pressure on me to send the first and second wives away so that she might occupy the number one position! As for me, deep in my heart, it was neither the third nor the first wife that I favored most, but the second.
At the time when my third wife came into the household my first two wives had already ceased to give birth, and this factor seemed to add weight to the pleadings of the latest wife to send the other two away. However, the second wife, in the knowledge that she was the favorite, would not yield in this struggle. In the meantime, my first wife took a back-seat position, as if a stranger in her own household.
A Turning Point in My Life
With the renewed and reinforced conflicts in the family, I fell sick again and, to make matters worse, one of my children died. As a result, I concluded that to regain my health and to bring peace back to the household I would have to remain with just one wife. Have you guessed which wife I planned to keep? Despite the fact that the third wife was still young and fruitful, my decision was that I should stay with my second wife. As it happened, though, when the members of my family learned of my resolve, they opposed me vigorously, and so, under their pressure, I suspended my decision. But, of course, the unsettled conditions in my marital life did not cease.
Then, in 1970, something happened that was to cause an even more profound change in my life, one of which I had never dreamed. I came in contact with one of Jehovah’s witnesses. As a Catholic my first reaction was one of wariness. Had not my church warned me of false prophets who would make their appearance in the last days? However, this encounter did encourage me to start reading the Bible, and, as a result, I began to learn things that I had never known before. One outstanding thing that impressed me was that, to please the Founder of marriage, a man should have but one wife. I read for myself in the first book of the Bible the following words: “That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” To find peace and, more importantly, to please God, I knew that sooner or later I would have to make up my mind to become one flesh with one woman.—Gen. 2:24.
By this time I had started to attend the meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses each week along with my three wives. However, when my wives realized that the time was rapidly approaching when I would be making a decision to send two of them away, they became increasingly uneasy. My first and third wives were resigned to the fact that my choice would be to remain with my second wife. The second wife herself had little doubt that she would occupy the cherished position as my only wife. As for me, I had not yet announced my decision.
Imagine my consternation when I learned that, to please the Creator, it was not simply a question of keeping any one of my three wives. In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God, I was legally married to my first wife, the wife of my youth. It was my duty to remain with this woman. (Prov. 5:18) Imagine my dilemma now! I really loved my second wife. Even before learning of the Bible’s requirements I had already decided to stay with her and to send the other two away. Now I was faced with the decision to remain with “the wife of my youth,” who was now by no means young. How could I bring myself to send away my second wife, who had borne me three children and whom I loved the most? My study of God’s Word during the past few months had convinced me that I must do the right thing. But would I have the strength to carry it out? I prayed frequently, and finally my love for God helped me to make the decision. Despite my explanations, there were many tears shed by the departing wives. For me it was as if my heart was torn in two. On the one hand, I experienced deep sorrow over the departure of the women I had lived with for so long, but, on the other hand, I had profound joy in the knowledge that my decision had gained the approval of the One who inaugurated the first marriage.
The sorrow that I felt was moderated also by the happiness that my decision brought to my first wife. I cannot describe her joy when she found herself restored to her former position. In her eyes my decision was just unbelievable.
Of course, not everyone was as happy as my first wife. After the initial tears my estranged wives did all in their power to embitter the minds of their children against their father. Their hostility continued despite the fact that I supported them financially. As for the other members of the family, some were very happy for me, because they knew of my sickness, which had been aggravated by the constant strife and unhappiness in my household. Others, however, regretted that I had decided to stay with an older woman, relatively speaking, and one who could no longer bear me any children. How did my other friends and acquaintances view my situation? There were those who thought that I had lost my mind. Still others admired what I had done, perhaps secretly in their hearts wishing that they had the courage to do the same.
What are my feelings? I have no regrets at all. To the contrary, I have every reason to be happy. At last my household is calm again. And to add to my contentment, my wife has joined me in serving the true God, Jehovah.
When I think back to those childhood dreams of mine as I sat around the wood fire in our village, I cannot help but marvel at the way in which my outlook on life has changed. Formerly, my one goal in life was to make a name and fame for myself as a heritage to pass on to my children after my death.
Now my hopes and aspirations are quite different. Instead of my own name, it is the name of the Creator of all the peoples of the earth, Jehovah, that I desire to be made known. And if I remain faithful to God, I am confident that I will inherit life in a new order on this planet earth, where not only my name but also my life will endure to all eternity. My one consuming aim in life now is that I should aid others, including my own wife and children, to learn to honor God’s name so that they may share with me in this better heritage of eternal life.