Considering that our president is arguably the world’s most famous living polygamist, and given that almost a third of South Africans think polygamy is a damn fine idea, many South Africans know surprisingly little about the ins and outs of this particular social institution.
If you think it starts and ends with one guy having several wives simultaneously, you’ve only got half the story. There is considerably more variation to the theme and if you’re thinking of playing in this arena it might be useful to explore some of the options available and the vocabulary involved:
Polygamy is the general bucket term used to describe the kind of marriage arrangement in which one person has more than one spouse at the same time. It is recognised under civil and customary law in much of the Islamic world and in a number of African countries, including Zambia, Senegal, Uganda, South Africa and parts of Nigeria.
The most common type of polygamy and the one we are most familiar with is called polygyny and involves specifically one man being married to two or more women.Polygyny has been practiced in many cultures around the globe and by members of all of the major world religions.
Before JZ, perhaps the most well-known practitioners of polygyny were the Mormons. Joseph Smith, Jr., the religion’s founder may have had as many as 34 wives. His successor, Brigham Young, was not to be outdone and accumulated an impressive tally of no less than 55 spouses during his lifetime. He is also noted for the unusual accomplishment of having married one of his (many) mothers-in-law.
Saleh al-Sayeri, a wealthy Arab business man has had a total of 58 wives. He navigated the minor inconvenience of Islam only allowing a maximum of four wives per man at a time by keeping three permanent wives and swopping out the fourth for an updated model on a more or less annual basis.
Sororal polygyny – two or more sisters being married to the same man – is prohibited in most cultures.
Polyandry is the much less common practice of a woman having more than one husband at a time. Fraternal polyandry is the practice of brothers sharing the same wife, a tradition observed, for example among nomadic Tibetans in Nepal and parts of China and India.
Group marriage, which is sometimes referred to as polygynandry involves single family units formed by more than one man and more than one woman. In such arrangements, all of the adult members share parental responsibilities for all of the children born out of the multiple shared relationships. Historically group marriages have been describe among various indigenous groups in Australia, North America and on some Pacific islands. These days they are more common in works of fiction and perhaps among remnants of 60s intentional communities and hippy communes.
Polyamory refers to the surprisingly widespread modern practice in which people have intimate relationships with more than one person at a time, all with the mutual knowledge, consent, respect and trust of all the individuals involved. This is sometimes called consensual non-monogamy and probably closest to what some people would identify as an open marriage.
A related practice is called polyfidelity, located somewhere between polyamory and group marriage, which involves consensual romantic and sexual relationships restricted to some or all the members of a specific group of people.
(Andrew Luyt, Health24, March 2010)
Source: www.wikipedia.com, The Great South African Sex Survey