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The scars I bore from growing up in a polygamous home

Written by Solomon Unoke

A young lady recounts her experience growing up in a polygamous home

Solomon Unoke

I paid an afternoon visit to a long time friend whom I met on the internet, although we’ve been friends for many months, we were yet to meet in person until that very day.

Our conversations were natural and relaxed, we spoke to each other just like we did over the phone, each person completely comfortable with the other, so comfortable we could share our hopes and dreams and even some secrets.

The meeting was supposed to be brief as I had a long commute ahead of me, and was hoping to beat the 4pm traffic in Lagos mainland, this traffic which is caused by closed office workers heading home, are notorious and could lead well into the night. So my intentions were to say hello, get a hug and get one my way, but as my intro probably suggests, it didn’t go down like that.

We started off talking about relationships as most young unmarried people do, we talked about how difficult it has become to find someone who could be of true value in a relationship. We touched on the subject of value itself and the seemly lack of it in present Nigeria.

I told her how hard it has been for me to find a good partner, since my search for a passionate and creative woman has turned out empty in many cases, and she responded with a narration of a recent failed relationship, which she had to cope with a dubious partner, whose sole aim was to con her out of as much money as he could.

Our conversations paused and restarted over and over as she had to attend to work from time to time, but finally, we landed on the subject of polygamy, where I stated what I strongly believed at the time, which was that; polygamous relationships could work if properly planned and when all parties involved love each other. I sighted modern polygamy as something I support; stating that it was possible for a man to love two women equally and the same could be for a woman who loves two men. If all parties involved should agree to share their bonds, a polygamous family could mean more financial stability and support for the kids if all parents contribute.

My friend maintained that polygamy is a dangerous endeavour that she would not advise anyone to engage in, and will not attempt herself based on her experience. At this point, I was curious, especially to know how awful her experience could have been to make such an open-minded woman unwilling to see reason in my logic.

And so began her heart-rending narration, which opened my eye into the realities of certain things in life, to which I have been completely naïve to.

This is the story of my friend’s experience in a polygamous family, and for privacy, we shall call her Nancy.

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Her childhood

For Nancy, her mother was the first wife and the only woman whom her father truly actually married by traditional law, his second wife came by adultery after his mistress got pregnant and refused to abort the baby. The shocking part of this mistress situation was that her father’s mistress turned out to be her mom’s best friend.

Now you can imagine that level of disgust and the potential seed of distrust that has been sown into Nancy and her four sisters through the actions of her father. It is a popular belief that the girl’s first love is her daddy, and female children are more likely to take care of their father, but as you might imagine, this is not the case for Nancy.

Nancy recalls her childhood with her parents as being a sad one, her father was both verbally and physically abusive to her mother. He would beat her from time to time and when she tried to fight back, he would stop providing for the family. Nancy and her sisters didn’t grow up feeling loved by their father and constantly felt like they were not a priority to him. As both wives didn’t live under one roof her father used this fully to his advantage as he had an optional home away from them, and refrain from providing whenever her mom disagrees with him.

At age 9, Nancy and her sister moved in with their aunt, who was also in a polygamous marriage, one of three wives. At her aunt’s home, Nancy accumulated more scars and emotional trauma to last a lifetime. To an outsider, everything seems to be normal as the wives rotated duties in the kitchen as well as the bedroom each for one week. Whoever is in charge of cooking also gets to share the bed with the husband, but the children were not left out, as I will soon find out.

A cause for shame in the house

Her aunt’s husband had a total of 17 children, and everyone believed that he was a very strict man. The children were not allowed to leave the house whenever they were home from their boarding schools and were not allowed to have visitors either.

Then the oldest daughter got pregnant. And whodunit? There were no possible suspects until the father was fingered. It became a secret and the pregnancy had to be aborted. Everyone in the house was on the same page and everything seemed okay until one of the wives leaked the secret, claiming she believed that such an incident will bring a curse upon the entire household if the proper rituals were not done. So she reported the husband to the elders of the community.

The elders of the community, as per tradition, had to perform a cleansing ritual. This ritual was not a quiet one.

“My uncle and his daughter were stripped down, flogged and paraded around the community,” Nancy said.

But after the cleansing, things were not the same again in the house. The shame was nearly unbearable as for a time, there seemed that the incident was the only topic of discussion for the entire community.

Her personal experience

Pressing her more, Nancy recounted her experience in the hands of her paedophile uncle.

“It started when I was in JSS3. On a particular day, my aunt told me to go and collect some money from my uncle, whom we all called daddy. The wives lived differently in separate homes from him; he was a rich man who used to be a politician, so he could afford the lifestyle.

“When I got there, I went up to meet him in his home office. Suddenly, while with him, he started saying things like ‘oh you’ve grown up so much, you’re a big girl now,’ and he began to touch me all over, touching my breasts, and rub the surface of my vagina. Thankfully, he didn’t take my clothes off. As I started crying, he said, ‘don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you, you’re going to like it’. As it appeared, he couldn’t take all the crying anyone and so he let me go with the money,” Nancy said.

However, she was more shocked by her aunty reaction when she recounted her experience to her after she asked her why she was crying.  Her aunt just retorted, ‘is that all why you were crying like a child?’ Just as if it was a normal occurrence.

This situation will later repeat itself many times as she became the regular messenger who was sent to collect money from her uncle. So she was forced to adopt a tact way to get out of the impending rape. Whenever she was asked to go and get some money or anything from him, she would take one of his daughters along to mitigate any action from him.

Inter-sibling relationships

The daughters in the family all attended “girls only” boarding schools, and were probably exposed to all kinds of sexual relationships and lesbianism from there. Before long a lesbian relationship started between the eldest daughter and the youngest. They were caught several times touching, kissing or cuddling each other. But even though it was an open secret among the children, none of the mothers or the father knew about it.

Another abnormal inter-sibling relationship Nancy recounted was between one of her uncle’s daughters and her male cousin from the paternal lineage. This happened when they were grown up and in the university. She said she caught them one night making love after she had heard several rumours about their immoral relationship.

“We were reading in preparation for an exam in one of the classes one night when I spotted them behind one window making out,” she said.

She explained that she was shocked not because only are they cousins, they practically grew up together, just like a brother and a sister.

Family feuds and rumours of fetish activities

No matter how well adjusted such a family seemed to the outside world, conflicts amongst family members is inevitable. Nancy recalls several situations where the wives quarrelled bitterly.

“There were times when the children of one of the wives would be warned against fraternizing with children of the other or even eating her food in fears of poisoning or witchcraft,” she said.

But the gravest enmity in the family was the ostracisation of one of the wives. She was accused of attempting to kill the uncle’s first daughter, whom he had by another woman he didn’t eventually marry. This drove his uncle mad and created a terrible enmity between him and the said wife. He never spoke with the accused till his death. Also, the other wives and their kids kept their distance as well.

Conclusion

Nancy said many sad events were regular occurrences in her uncle’s home. She said this experience and her father’s changed behaviour after marrying a second wife have made her hate polygamous marriage and would not advise anyone she loves to venture into it.

“There are many unknowns in the future. Also people you think you know could change as a result of the complications that come from having many people having the feeling they need to safeguard their interests in one home,” she said.

One could fill in the blanks in this story with an active imagination. Competition, hatred, jealousy and general distrust have been the upbringing of Nancy and her uncle’s children since childhood. And when people grow up from damaged roots such as this it becomes a classic case of “hurt people, hurt minds”.

There are several adults today who have not yet healed from the trauma of childhood, whose angle of seeing the world has been affected and distorted by the experiences of their childhood, people who never learnt to adjust to a world of chances, who didn’t learn well in their formidable years.

It is up to us as adults to safeguard the hearts of children, monitor and guide their experiences so as not to poison their view of the world before they have the chance to see it for themselves.

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About the author

Solomon Unoke

Solomon is a writer science fiction, romance and website contents who's passion revolves around works of creativity and vivid imaginations.

"Walls, trees, the sands and the seas, all of nature is a witness to the stories of our lives and of thousands of lives that came before us. Whispers heard in the winds, and the chirping of the birds on the trees, are stories begging to be heard and experiences that wants to be relived. Our stories keep the planet alive."

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