The Polygamist by Ndabaningi Sithole

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Stars: ****1/2

Summary: Seven wives share Menzi Dube, head of a Rhodesian tribal village, on a rotating basis. And although they enjoy all the benefits of a rich and progressive husband, they are less than satisfied with having to share him sexually. When one of the tribe’s young wives goes astray, having found the several weeks’ interval between her husband’s visits unbearable, the other women are most sympathetic. This provokes extensive and spirited debate over the mutual plight as female “victims” of the age-old custom of polygamy.

Ndanda, Dube’s eldest son, who has been away for many years, returns wearing European clothes, as most of Dube’s family has been longing to, has been educated in missionary schools as a teacher, and plans to marry a girl from a Westernized family… just one girl. Dube vows to save his son from the certain disaster of monogamous union, but Ndanda resists, determined to bring his people into the “modern age.”

I picked this book up at a local thrift store because the title caught me. This was an incredibly interesting book and fairly well-written, considering it was written by a man in a Rhodesian prison. It was published in 1972 by The Third Press which seems to be defunct*. You can’t even buy it new on amazon although there are some used copies, most for $40 – $90 though depending on publishing date.

Even though the book is fiction, the characters all follow typical Rhodesian cultural practices at the time. It’s quite thought provoking because you see the up and down sides to polygamy as well as their other cultural practices. Also the polygamy that is/was practiced in Africa isn’t the same as the polygamy families in the U.S. and elsewhere. Following is a quote that shows another of the cultural practices:

“A little girl entered the hut. She carried a wooden bowl of water. As soon as
she approached Dube, she knelt down and then placed the bowl on the circular
hearth which was made of mud. “There’s the water, father,” she said rising to
her feet. “That’s all right, my child” acknowledge Dube tenderly […]She rose
to her feet and soon left the hut. Custom observance was very strict at Dube’s
village just as it was at other villages. The little girl had to announce
formally, “There’s the water,” to indicate that it was her pleasure to bring
that water, and that it was now at their disposal. The formal announcement had
the effect of releasing the water from her, so to speak, so that it could be
used freely.”

Similarly, here’s a quote regarding polygamy:

“…and so each of the seven wives had a special attribute which endeared her to
Dube. They were beautiful, hardworking, and obedient and, with the exception of
Manyati, they all had children. […] But if the younger wives of Dube secured
his goodwill with their youthfulness and beauty, the older ones held the
executive and political reins on his estate.”

In the chapter that’s from, he explains each wife, where she was found, how many heads of cattle was paid for her, what he likes about her and how many children she has born for him so far. It’s very evident that he truly loves ALL of his wives and for different reasons and that he treats them all fairly.

The ending was really enjoyable and I wish this book was available to a wider public because I most definitely recommend this to everyone.

* Third Press, Joseph Okpaku Publishing Company Inc. (New York, 1970; ceased publishing in 1986 – from wikipedia

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.