It is a common occurrence for men to have multiple wives, a practice widely accepted in various cultures and religions around the world. Polygamy remains the norm in numerous households, even in contemporary society.
In some regions, especially in the northern parts of Nigeria, it is not unusual to encounter stories of celebrities and leaders with multiple wives, a fact that often goes unremarked. However, the concept of women marrying multiple husbands is a subject that tends to raise eyebrows and draw attention.
Polyandry, the practice in which a woman takes two or more husbands simultaneously, is not a phenomenon typically associated with Nigeria. While it may be unfamiliar in this country, various parts of the world, including certain regions in Africa and countries like Nepal, China, and parts of Northern India, consider it a customary practice.
In this article, we will delve into the intriguing culture of the Irigwe tribe in Northern Jos, where women were permitted to practice polyandry.
Polyandry Traditions Among the Irigwe People
The Irigwe people, residing on the western outskirts of Plateau, Jos, constitute a unique community of approximately 17,000 individuals. This distinctive group is known for their strong support of polyandry, a practice that aligns with their distinctive customs, language, and social traditions, setting them apart from neighboring tribes.
Within Irigwe culture, women had the liberty to have multiple husbands and could move freely between the homes of different men. Although they maintained multiple spouses, the paternity of their children was attributed to the husband with whom the woman cohabited at any given time. The practice of polyandry persisted among the Irigwe people for many decades until it was officially prohibited in 1968.
Motivations Behind the Practice of Polyandry
Several factors contributed to the adoption of polyandry among the Irigwe people. In addition to their unique traditions and cultural norms, several other reasons underpinned the practice of polyandry, including:
1. Economic Considerations: Polyandry facilitated the pooling of resources, labor, and land among the husbands, particularly vital in their agrarian communities.
2. Fertility Solutions: Polyandry offered a solution to issues of infertility. When one husband faced challenges fathering children, the responsibility of ensuring offspring was shared among the other husbands within the marriage.
3. Inheritance and Land Rights: In certain cases, polyandry helped safeguard family land and property rights. Since children born in polyandrous unions were considered heirs to all the husbands involved, the family’s land and assets remained within the collective group.