Polygamous marriages are not recognized in approximately 20% of modern societies . In societies where polygynous marriage is banned, polygamous male behavior may be observed in the establishment of mistresses, who are openly or secretly supported.

In some cases the male may have a separate family with a non-legally recognized wife, supporting her and his children. In some situations the wife not only is aware of the husband's mistress, but also helps him select a "suitable" one. Mistresses and concubines rank lower than a wife and in some societies, are placed under her authority. A man may have as many full wives as he can support, with concubines assigned to each wife to aid in managing the large family.

Recent years have seen the emergence of polygynandry, or group marriage, with multiple numbers of both sexes.

Wives in a polygamous marriage

One modern viewpoint is that polygamy degrades women, treating them as property and slaves. The inferior position that women experienced in polygynous societies is not acceptable by modern Western standards.

Historically this has not been an accurate assessment. Polygamy was used in some societies to enhance certain genetic characteristics, and to weed out unhealthy characteristics. Moreover, owing to the propensity of men to serve and die in wars or labor incidents, women, for centuries, were more likely than men to be left unmarried or widowed. Polygamy ensured that such women were cared for and also helped ensure the births of the large numbers of children required for the survival of pre-mechanized, largely-agrarian cultures in which early mortality rates were high.

In historical China, a child was considered to have more than one mother. For example, a child might have up to four mothers, the first wife being the "official mother" , in spoken language is called "big mother" . The others being regarded as unofficial mothers ,in spoken language is called "little mother" or "aunt" (??, ??) . However, this custom was primarily a result of the concubinage system, where only the first wife was considered the "real" wife, the mistress of the household. The concubines usually provided pleasure and servitude only, and their children were not regarded as officially theirs.

Sororal polygymy

Sororal polygymy is a type of marriage in which two or more sisters share one or more husbands.

With polygyny, jealousy between co-wives over perceived unequal attention from or access to their shared husband is common. However, this is often avoided, or at least reduced, by giving each wife a separate house and a ranked status. The first wife is usually in a commanding position. Rivalry is also reduced by sororal polygyny, which is sisters marrying the same man. The assumption is that sisters will be more likely to amicably share a husband. The most disruptive rivalry in a polygynous family is often between the children, especially if there is something important to inherit, such as a royal title or wealth. This also results in rivalry between the mothers. The typical way of avoiding this situation is to formally define the eldest son or daughter of the senior wife as the heir apparent.

Polygyny in context


Polygyny was practiced by many of the patriarchs in the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament including Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David and King Solomon, and was practiced throughout the time of the New Testament. Historically, polygynous groups have been persecuted, some to near extinction such as native North Americans. Many Christians in the United States believe that polygyny is wrong and claim there is New Testament Biblical evidence to support that stance. (KJV) states, "And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

The New Testament Church did ban polygyny for Elders, Deacons and Bishops (1 Timothy 3:2). All references to marriage by Jesus in the New Testament are to a single man and a single woman.

East Asia

Procreation, or having offspring, is a very important value in Chinese societies and families. China has practiced polygyny for thousands of years. Polygyny had been legal and was written in the law as recently as the end of the Qing/Ching dynasty of the imperial China (1911).

A part of the Confucian tradition indicates the importance of procreation, as it is considered to be part of filial piety. Therefore, it is possible that this type of thinking influenced the view towards polygyny.

On a side note, there is a traditional Chinese phrase saying "A wife is not as good as a concubine" This saying probably just describe the mindset of some men who prefer the young and the pretty of their own choosing, rather than wives through arranged marriages.

In the past, Emperors could have hundreds to thousands of concubines. And subsequently rich officials and merchants could also have a number of concubines besides wives. The first wife is head or mother wife, other wives are under her headship if the husband is away, and others are concubines and have lower status than the full wives. Offspring from concubines did receive equal wealth/legacy from their father.

The original wife is referred to as the ?? (main room) both in China, Japan & Korea. ?? (big woman/big wife) is the slang term. Both indicate the orthodox nature and hierarchy. The official wife is either called "big mother" , mother or auntie. The child of the concubine simply addresses the big mother as auntie.

The written word for the second woman (and literally means "she who occupied the side room") is ??. This word is also used in both China and Japan. They are also called ? in China and Korea.

The common terms referring to the second woman and the act of having the second woman respectively are ?? (er nai / yi nai), literally "the second wife". The terms have been widely used in the media. Though illegal, it is still practiced by many richer men who can afford to support a mistress and her subsequent children. The mass media often report polygyny cases of the rich and the famous.

'''People's Republic of China''' (PRC)

In modern mainland China, polygamy (and by extension polygyny) is illegal under Marriage Law passed in 1951, except for those members of an ethnic minority who traditionally practice polygamy (both polygyny and polyandry). Polygyny was seen as a characteristic of the bourgeoisie and as such, many senior Communist leaders who had mistresses and concubines during the Long March were forced to disband them. Because of this, polygyny is virtually unheard of in China today

However, with the opening up of the country and the increased contact with Hong Kong and Taiwan, certain polygamous activities began appearing. Cross-border polygyny is ever increasing between PRC, Hong Kong and ROC. .

Taiwan - Republic of China (ROC)

Polygyny is illegal. However, it is common for some richer Taiwanese to have secret second lovers who become concubines not living together with the wife. Taiwanese merchants, businessmen and workers are stationed in mainland China during work trips, and it is usual to keep secret lovers or even secret families there.

Hong Kong & Macau

Polygyny was banned in October of 1971 but the practice is still evident. A famous example is Dr Stanley Ho who owned the Macau Casino in Lisboa. He has 4 wives. His uncle has 12 wives.

In Hong Kong, since work pressure is extremely high and birth rate is the lowest among the world, many Hong Kong businessmen keep a secret concubine across the border in mainland China. One of the reasons is that the cost of maintaining a second family there in the PRC is lower. Girls in mainland China are also more willing to be a full-time mother at a younger age.

In a research paper of Berlin Humboldt University on sexology, Doctor Man-Lun Ng quoted that the estimation of about 300,000 men have mistresses in China. In 1995, 40% of the extramarital affairs involved a stable partner International Herald Tribune Kevin Murphy had reported the cross-border polygyny phenomenon in Hong Kong in 1995.

Period drama exists and is performed to this day which depicts the former culture of the polygamy (usually polygyny) practice. A famous example: one of the saga (The Deer and the Cauldron / The Duke of the Mount Deer) by Hong Kong famous writer Louis Cha (Jin Yong): he assigned 7 willing wives for the very capable leading role Wei Xiaobao (WaiSiu-Bo) who is a successful double spy good at office politics and human relations. The fiction and subsequent films and television drama became immensely popular among Chinese societies across the world.


Most majority Muslim countries (except Albania, Tunisia, Turkey, and former USSR republics) retain traditional Sharia which interpret the teachings of the Quran to permit polygyny up to four wives. Albania is a country where although about 70% of the population is historically Muslim, majority is non-confessional. Turkey and Tunisia are countries with absolute majority Muslim populations (99.8% and 98% respectively) that enforce secularist practices by law. In former USSR republics, prohibition of polygyny is the heritage of the Soviet Law. Currently there is a revival of polygyny in the Muslim World and there have been attempts to re-legalise and/or re-legitimise it in some countries and communities where it is illegal.



Ramzan Kadyrov, President of the Chechen Republic, was quoted on radio saying that the depopulation of Chechnya by war justifies legalizing polygamy/polygyny. Kadyrov was supported by Nafigallah Ashirov, the Chairman of the Council of Grand Muftis of Russia. Ashirov stated that polygyny is already widespread among Muslim communities of the country. Polygyny is illegal throughout the Russian Federation but it is tolerated in predominantly Muslim republics such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan.

Although non-Muslim Russian populations are historically monogamous, Russian liberal democratic leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky offers to legalise polygyny in order to tackle the demographic crisis of Russians. Zhirinovsky who made his first proposal of legalisation of polygyny as early as 1993, after Kadyrov's statement declared that he would introduce an amendment to legalise polygyny for all Russian citizens.


In Kyrgyzstan, a proposal to decriminalise polygyny came before the Kyrgyz parliament. Although illegal, polygyny is a traditional practice revived in Kyrgyzstan. On March 26 2007, despite strong backing of the Justice Minister, country's ombudsman, and Muslim Women's organisation Mutakalim that gathered 40,000 signatures in favour of polygyny, the parliament rejected the bill. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is known as a prominent opponent of legalising polygyny.


Due to subsequent increase in number of polygamous marriages, proposals were made in Tajikistan to re-legalise polygyny. Tajik women who want to be second wives are particularly supportive of decriminalising polygyny. Mukhiddin Kabiri, the Deputy Chairman of Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan states that legislation is unlikely to stop the growth in polygyny and criticises the ruling élite for speaking out against the practice while taking more than one wife themselves.

Other former USSR republics

There were also recent arguments in favour of re-legalising polygyny in other Muslim ex-Soviet republics like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Muslim communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina had been traditionally known as practicing polygyny at a very limited level. The custom last existed in Cazinska Krajina in the early 1950s. Although illegal in the country, polygyny is encouraged by certain religious circles and there is a current increase in number. This trend is usually seen linked with the advent of Wahhabism in the Balkans.

Bosniak population in neighbouring Sand?ak is also affected by the trend in Bosnia. There were attempts to adopt entire Islamic jurisdiction including polygyny but these moves were rejected. However, this could not bar the top cleric (Mufti of Novi Pazar) Muamer Zukorli? from taking a second wife.


In Turkey, polygyny has been strictly discouraged since the adoption of Turkish Civil Code in 1926, a milestone of Atatürk's secularist reforms. Although not allowed in the legislation and not approved by state authorities, polygamous marriages praised by imams who are, in the Turkish context, civil servants of Diyanet ??leri Ba?kanl??? are conducted. Turkey, as a member of the OIC, is also a signatory of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam that considers Sharia as the sole reference of human rights issues.

Polygyny is a common occurrence in Kurdish villages. Overall, polygyny is on the rise in Turkey. An opinion poll in 2004 showed that 63% of Turks favoured polygyny. On April 6 2007, Municipal Assembly of Ç?plakl? (composed of members of the ruling moderate Islamist AK Parti and conservative-liberal ANAP) in Alanya unanimously adopted a resolution to support men who consider taking a second wife (kuma). People of Ç?plakl? are Yörük, a Turkic ethnicity who practice transhumance. "When we go to the summer pastures and leave our wives behind, we feel very lonely." told Ali ?hsan Topal, a member of the Assembly from AK Parti.

United States and Canada

The most prominent American polygynous society is the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a splinter sect of Mormonism based in Colorado City. In 2005, a meeting was called between the governors of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico in an effort to economically and politically isolate religious sects that practice polygyny, mainly the FLDS. British Columbia has also politically isolated its small polygynous religious community, located in the southeastern portion of the province . Fundamentalist Mormons represent a growing number of polygynous marriages in the US today. With growing fear of daycares, concerns over the lack of discipline in public schools, and the blossoming of so called "Super Preachers" and "Super Churches", fundamentalist Mormons are seeking to strengthen the family though plural marriage, where the children are cared for within the home.

Animal polygyny

Monogamy is rare among mammals; only 3% of species are monogamous . Monogamy is more common among primates: about 15% of species. About 19% of human societies sampled for diversity (figure 1) are strictly monogamous, but the data on human polygyny suggest that in most societies most marriages are monogamous even though the majority of societies permit polygyny. Polyandry is very rare among mammals and humans .


Chimpanzees have a multi-male social organization, meaning that groups include several males and several females. Within chimp groups there appear to be several variations on mating patterns: The typical pattern is for several related males to dominate the group. This dominant fraternity shares sexual access to females and prevents other males from mating. A different pattern is for one male and one female to establish a kind of relationship, then when the female enters estrus, she and the male split off from the group for several weeks, when they have sex repeatedly in secluded parts of the forest. These "consortships" are temporary arrangements, sometimes between male and female friends and sometimes males coerce females into consortships. Males involved in consortships may or may not be part of the dominant male coalition. The frequency of consortships varies from one chimp group to the next, hinting at the kind of mating variation we see in humans. Sometimes a single dominant male chimp can monopolize sexual access to females and the group may be effectively polygynous for a time.

Polygyny will reduce the effective population size of a given closed population.

The sociobiology of polygyny

Amongst vertebrates, especially so with mammals, polygyny is the most common mating system. The likelihood that a species' evolution has been driven by polygyny can be determined by the presence of the following characteristics:

Some species show facultative polygamy, where males mate with multiple females only when resource conditions are favourable. Recent research on voles has identified the genetic difference that predisposes one species to polygyny and another closely related species to pair bonding The brain hormone mechanisms through which this very slight genetic difference acts have also been identified; they involve the response to vasopressin and oxytocin .

Scientific studies

Tim Clutton-Brock and Kavita Isvaran at the University of Cambridge in England, compared about 20 monogamous and polygynous vertebrate species, found the more polygynous a species was, the more likely their males were to age faster and die earlier than females.

See also


Further reading

External links

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This article is based on "Polygyny" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Polygyny&action=history