Polygamy (from Greek polugamía) “state of marriage to many spouses” is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at the same time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry.
The most typical forms of polygamy have been polygyny, in which cowives share a husband, or polyandry in which cohusbands share a wife.
Polygamy is rare phenomenon throughout the developed part of the world. In the US for instance, having spouse like relationships with more than one person under the same roof was criminalized in 1882. Today, people in the US are rarely prosecuted for living with multiple romantic partners, but every state has laws against getting married while already being married to someone else.
The old testament polygamists were circumstantial. You will find these references as Biblical Polygamists. Esau (Gen 26:34; 28:6-9), Jacob (Gen 29:15-28), Elkanah (1 Samuel 1:1-8), David (1 Samuel 25:39-44; 2 Samuel 3:2-5; 5:13-16), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3).
The person whose position resulted to the twelve tribes of Isreal – the polygamous family of Jacob (Isreal) was circumstantial. He never intended to have more than one wife. His intentions were short changed. He laboured for the last daughter, Racheal and the first daughter, Leah was given to him instead. Subsequently, these two sisters came up with the ideas of bringing in their handmaids – Bilhah and Zilpah. So the fact that Jacob’s four wives gave him twelve male kids was not as if God could not confirm his words in Racheal. Remember that the son of promise, Joseph was through Jacob’s original plans.
On the same Biblical references for the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 7 states that polygamy is unlawful; and that one man is to have but one wife, and to keep to her; and that one woman is to have but one husband, and to keep to him and the wife only has a power over the husband’s body, a right to it, and may claim the use of it.
Nigeria is estimated as having the fifth highest polygamy prevalence in the world, with 28% of the population living in polygamous marriages, with only four countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Gambia and Niger) having a higher prevalence. This statistics is not as large as people expected it to be considering the entire population of Nigeria vice-a-vise the other nations as mentioned.
In Nigeria, culture in the southern part of the country, and religion in the northern part of the country are major reasons why polygamy is prevalent. Majority of Nigerians in the southern part of the country have long pushed behind them the idea of having more than one wife. Polyandry, the act of a woman keeping more than one husband is beyond comprehension. I came from a very large family. I am of age already. Old enough to know the history and composition of my extended family.
A good count down to the fourth generation has not shown any man who kept two wives at a time in my linage. Never was it mentioned of any woman who had two husbands in the history of my clan. These has not happened before now, and not in my own time, either by accident or design.
For the families that are known for polygamy, there are some reasons for contemplating it in the first place. One of such reasons may be that of culture. Some culture in Igboland for instance do allow a man to take over the brother’s widow to be able to raise kids for the late brother.
In biological reasons, if a man is from a family that is low in counts, he may choose to have more than one wife so as to have many children. In some instances, religion may bestow on a man the ideas of more than one wife to allow him to worship his God ideally. The societal bethrothal may be another reason. Men are judged by the sizes of their families (many wives and children.)
In the cases listed above, it is only in the case of religion that the number of wives in polygamy are determined. In other cases, choice of the numbers are determine by the man.