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Senegal - Polygamy

cohabitation family polygamous wives wife married

The most distinctive pattern of Senegalese marriage is polygamy, a marital state in which a man is married to more than one wife. In principle a man may have as many wives as he wishes, although most polygamous males follow the Islamic rule that limits the number of wives to four. Senegal has the highest polygamy rate—the percentage of polygamous marriages among all married couples—in West Africa: Close to half of the women are married to polygamous husbands. Even for the youngest generations (fifteen to nineteen years old), polygamy rates are about 25 percent, suggesting that about one in four women first marries into a polygamous union (Pison et al. 1995).

The main social factors underlying the high polygamy rates are religion, pronatalism, high mortality, and levirate. Having more than one wife is authorized under Islamic law, and men often invoke their religious beliefs to explain their practice of polygamy. In 1997, about one-third of married Senegalese men had more than one wife, with one in four married men having two wives and one in ten men married to more than two wives (Ndiaye et al. 1997). The bulk of the Senegalese population (70%) lives in rural areas, with agriculture as their main economic activity. Polygamous marriage is, therefore, the expression of men's desire to have a large number of children to help on the farm. In such settings where overall mortality rates are extremely high, couples have many children in order to ensure that a few of them to survive to the productive years and, thus, serve as old-age social security for parents through intergenerational wealth transfers. Finally, levirate, the possibility of inheriting the wives of deceased brothers, is a common practice in Senegal, and this too has contributed to the observed high polygamy rates.

Although at the aggregate level, polygamy certainly contributes to larger family sizes, research has demonstrated that Senegalese women in polygamous unions have on average a lower number of children than their counterparts in monogamous marriages. Michel Garenne and Etienne van de Walle (1989), studying the Serer of central Senegal, explain these differentials by the fact that women in polygamous marriage exhibit lower than average frequency of sexual intercourse because a polygamous "husband has to distribute his sexual activity between his wives." Also, polygamous husbands are on average older and thus less fertile than monogamous men. It has been shown, however, that lower fertility of polygamous marriages may be due to infertility problems encountered by first wives. Ndiaye (1985) argues that monogamous husbands are often obliged to marry a second wife when the first wife is infertile.

Polygamy has had major influences on the living arrangements of Senegalese families. In rural areas, all wives usually live together with their polygamous husband in the same compound, a group of adjacent rooms with a common fence and entry. Typically, the husband spends a certain number of nights with each wife, and the wives rotate cooking and other household chores. These living arrangements lead to large average compound size (more than ten people per household) and to the cohabitation of several nuclear families. Almost one out of six compounds is formed by three cohabiting family members, and more than one-third of Senegalese families are neither the wife nor the children of the household head. In such households with more than one male, household headship is determined mainly by age—the elder male is usually designated as the head.


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over 4 years ago

I am an American woman I am married to a Senegalese man, I am wife #2 I have no problem with it at all, American men cheat and we are in the dark for the most part, at least we know there is another woman. The practice is not strange nor unusual, it is what it is.



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about 3 years ago

Its a cultural concept. Trying to Biblically prove that polygamy is "right" will get you nowhere really fast. I am personally a strong believer in monogamous marriages but I do not feel that I have the right to tell anyone else that their culture/practices are wrong...

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almost 3 years ago

Don't do it...if u have suspicions go with your gut. I wouldn't marry any foreign man unless I knew for sure he had his own papers. Most times, these men marry you for immigration purposes knowing they have a wife or somebody back home. They use American women.

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over 3 years ago

i currently understand the situation that people in Senegal face especial the women but still understand that it is their choice to be married polygamy,

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over 4 years ago

I am an African American Muslim woman and WAS married to a Senegalese man. I was his #2 wife as well; his first wife and 3 children were in Africa. I accept it only if the other wivies are in agreement and get along, which is seldom. I do not think his 1st wife was aware of our marriage. I tried the whole year of our marriage to talk to her but my husband had several excuses why I could not which lead me to believe she did not know. Unlike her I did not get a big wedding ceremony. He fully supported her and his children but did not have the funds to support me or the children we would have had. I have heard NO success stories regarding polygamy and most women are against it, its for the mans pleasure.

I would be in another polygamy marriage; for someone like me that is in their early 40's, have a career, going to school, have no desire to have children(well maybe one) and would rather be alone most the time its ideal for me. Being a muslim I cannot date and I am not the jealous type so sharing is not a big thing to me. As long as all parties are in agreement, get along and treated fairly and equally.

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over 5 years ago

You have to put yourself in their situation to really understand the concept. We don't participate in these practices because our culture is different. Also, it is part of their religion. Yes, there are polygamous sects that abuse children and treat women poorly, but not all of them do. It disappoints me how ignorant and unaccepting people are these days. It is the 21st Century. Open your eyes.

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almost 6 years ago

a woman who grew up in the recently found polygamist compound in texas, but left before they moved there said that her father didn't even know her name... if that love i don't want it.

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over 6 years ago

It isn't a sick practice at all when you live in a community. It just is what life is like. Co-wives may get along like sisters or bicker like rivals, like any othter family relationship. But the children in this culture are loved by large families... that is never bad

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almost 4 years ago

I'm an Africian American women who's been dating a Sengelese for 7 months now. He lives in New York (where we met)I live in South Carolina. I've been to NY several times to see him since we met and he'll be coming here next month. He wants to marry and i question his live in Senegal. He states he was married and she has re-married since they've divorced. I'm not sure if divorce is even an option in his religion/country. He states we can marry the way they marry in Senegal and not have anything on paper (the american way)if i'm not ready or have second thoughts. He does not pressure me about marriage but he expresses his desire to marry me from time to time. He has been nothing but good to me, he treats me like no American man has ever. My heart melts at the very mention of his name. His family and friends in N.Y. (all men) have been wonderful. I don't pay for anything when i'm there, they carry all my bags, and the pleasure side of it OMG...



I do love this man but my fear is- what if he has a wife in Senegal? I DON'T want to share rather it be American or any other culture. His brother and uncles all have several wifes in Senegal and are very proud of each and every one. They all seem to be great providers.



I still blush when i talk about him-I love this man and only pray i'm the only one.

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over 4 years ago

frowning at how similar tanya's boyfriend, sounds like my boyfriend from senegal... dakar... dad has 3 wives...yikes... hardship on the children...let's just pray that he doesn't live in new york too, lol...i love EVERYTHING about the senegalese culture accept the polygamy. =( sorry, only my opinion...baraka Alla, barak'Allah fik (wolof)!!!

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over 4 years ago

Interesting bit of information. My boyfriend is from Senegal and he was raised in a polygamous setting. From his stories, it sounds like a nightmare for all, wives, children, and father. Because Western concepts are deeply infused where he is from (Dakar, which is urban and not rural), the stress of economic competition places great weight on the family. My boyfriend's father has been unable to provide for his three wives or his children. The first wife had a tough time too. She was married to my boyfriend's father for many many years before he decided to marry a younger wife and begin to neglect her. The younger generation is shying away from polygamy. Senegalese women, again mostly from the urban areas, do not want to marry a man already married and fear that if they do marry, their husbands will marry a second wife one day. Although they may not express this concern because their religion sanctions this behavior from the men. This fear must be a result of the residue of women's rights. Ultimately, what I have learned from my boyfriend is that polygamy can often be really awful and there is little success with it in this day, however, in certain settings, it has a purpose. Now, of course, it truly sucks for the women...But this is coming from the perspective of an American girl who would greatly dislike the idea of sharing her love and partner with another woman. The thought of my man giving pleasure, love, and children to another, as if I am not as important, pisses me off! Not to mention disease, the jealousy of other wives particularly in regard to the children...

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about 6 years ago

Unacceptable!!!

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over 6 years ago

A very sick concept in this day and age.

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over 2 years ago

Okay so I have a friend who is from Senegal. Have known him for about two years. Within the last five months we became more than friends. And I really love him alot. He is respectful and has treated me better than any american men. The problem is he is Muslim and even tho i respect that I have to tell him about Jesus. That He is more than a prophet He is the Savior! Its hard because when I tell him things he does not understand their meaning. He speaks english well and understands it he just doesn't understand what i tell him. I feel really bad because I confuse him because the biggest part of me wants to tell him about the gospel but its not easy for me to say to him hey what you believe and have believed for years is false. so i was trying to understand his roots and customs ect so i did my research on the country and religion and now i know alot of what he was talking about. we are not in a relationship per say but i cant quit thinking about him he is the only black man i have ever been intimate with and he is an awesome person. i just feel everything i have said to him has pushed him away and now he is gone from me. what should i do? leave him alone and pray for him or be at his convienence because his life is busy. he lies i think my life is buy too much to be wasting my time on someone who wont commit think im done.

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over 5 years ago

Read So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba. the point is not that women are abused or that it is sick it is that women have no power. They are ruled by men and are forced to rely on men for their wellbeing and social status, they are forced into marriages for the benefit of their family whether it is an arranged marriage or not. If it was ok for a woman also to have multiple husbands and the husband was as reliant on his wife/wives as they were to him, then i might be able to accept it although it is against my religion. but Polygyny, which is what is talked about here offers no equality for women but keeps them in a docile, inferior role to men.

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over 2 years ago

This activity causes a ban on legal immigration to the United States..no residence, no citizenship!

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about 5 years ago

My son is doing a project at school about polygamy and he has to interview someone who is married to at least 3 wives. We live in Cape Town, South Africa - please help! Does anyone know of anyone we could contact? THANKS!

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over 5 years ago

ava, you must know that the practice of polygamy was practiced by all of the prophets in the bible, moses, david, soloman, abraham, isac. and by gangis khan, all chinesee emperors, and if inparticular to the judeao christian beliefs that if god allowed his rightous servants to marry more than ne woman at a time who are you to saw that it is wrong. you may say that men who practice polygamy are abusive to their wives or children, but there are both men and women who are abusive to their mates and or children who do not practice polygamy. i am not saying that it is right for anyone to abuse another, or ignore their children. but i think that women who don't like polygamy just should not marry a man who is already married.