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Group of African womenPolygamy is defined as the condition of having more than one spouse at the same time. In most of the civilized world this social practice is steadily becoming obsolete. As modern society continues to develop specific universal "norms", polygamous practices are starting to fade from existence.

Some Christian religions that had once espoused polygamous beliefs, such as the once liberal Protestant sects, have gradually adopted stricter monogamous ideals. This is most likely in part due to the growing complexities of society, civil rights and legal systems. In the face of today's modern beliefs, it is really no longer practical or economically feasible to maintain complicated polygamous unions.

While it is true that in most of today's world the practice of polygamy is on the decline, there still are some cultures that continue to follow this lifestyle. For instance, the more fundamental offshoots of the Mormon Church still openly accept polygamous marriages. Until relatively recently, the Church of the Latter Day Saints used to defend polygamous ideals as having a basis in the bible. This custom was in fact continued until just prior to 1890 at which time they singularly denounced the practice. Some of it's more resolute members however, still continue follow the old traditions even though it now goes against Mormon belief.

The Jewish community has also had to contend with polygamous practices even after most of their sects have banned them. This situation arose from the fact that many Jewish families who lived in predominantly Muslim communities, commonly entered into polygamous marriages. While Muslims permit polygamy, they adhere to a strict rule that only men who can provide adequately for their families may take more than one wife. Residents of India who are Muslim are also permitted to polygamous marriages even though the most popular religion there, Hinduism, forbids it. Hinduism had, in ancient times, tolerated polygamy, but the practice itself was usually reserved for those of royal blood.

In many African cultures polygamy still exists even though an increasing number have begun to reconsider this practice in the face of growing population density and the rapid spread of AIDS. The custom itself was practiced in Africa for many reasons. Firstly, polygamy was once beneficial due to high infant mortality rates and the relatively short life spans of both men and women. Secondly, since agriculture is a key industry and requires much manpower, having multiple wives to breed more children seemed like an ideal solution. Additionally, social status in Africa was also determined by not only the number of possessions and material wealth a tribesman had, but also by the number of wives and children he had.

As we can see, while polygamy was once an acceptable and sometimes desirable practice in ancient times, the fact that it is steadily being phased out shows that modern-day society is far more in favor of pragmatic values over abstract ideals. In today's increasingly complex society and economy, it has become almost impossible to marry, care and provide for more than one family. With this present trend, it is unlikely that polygamy will ever again be as prolific as it once was.

PRS Posted by PRS
Sunday, January 15th, 2006


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