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When one wife is not enough

MOSES Phiri with his four wives and two of his children.

“I DECIDED to marry four wives because one woman could not satisfy my desire as a man,” says Moses Phiri of Mulangeni village in Chief Chanje’s area.
Mr Phiri, 41, married his first wife, Lizyness, in 1993.
But in 1997, Mr Phiri befriended and fell in love with Loveness Banda of neighbouring Bonzo village, whom he met at a village soccer match. Mr Phiri still fancies himself as a good soccer player.
Within only a month, the two were discussing marriage.
“I would lie if I said I found anything wrong with my wife, she was okay,” says Mr Phiri. “I just needed one more woman to satisfy my sexual hunger.”
But when he told Lizyness about getting a second wife, she strongly objected to the idea.
“She was very unhappy, and I understood why; she is a woman and wanted to have a husband all to herself,” says Mr Phiri, who makes a living through subsistence farming.
In order to appease his wife and get his wish granted, Mr Phiri gave Lizyness a chicken, as per Chewa custom.
A few years later, Mr Phiri had added two more women to his harem.
And Lizyness? Well, she seems to have gotten over her unhappiness of having to share her husband with other women, so much so that she now speaks in favour of polygamy.
“The goodness of being in this marriage is that we work together, but also we have a husband who handles his affairs very well, he doesn’t skip the time to spend with each one of us,” she says.
Mr Phiri spends two days with each of his wives.
To enhance his sexual drive, he uses an aphrodisiac called vubwi, which is a wild root ground into a powder.
He says vubwi is so potent, that it even helps in women who have difficulties conceiving.
“When I married my second wife, she had stayed nine years in her previous marriage without a child, but now she has a child, and is expecting another,” he says.
Mr Phiri has nine children, six with his first wife.
He also says he takes the issue of HIV/AIDS seriously, and he and his wives regularly test for the virus.
There is no hint of trouble in the Phiri household. The four women do many things together.
“We go to fetch water together, we sit and chat and even groom each other’s hair,” says Lizyness.
All the three women have the same reasons for entering this polygamous union, and they did it with full knowledge.
“I knew he already had three wives, but I just wanted to be his fourth wife because I liked him,” says Esnart Soko.
Esnart says she has seen many benefits of being in a polygamous marriage.
“There was a time when I was away in my parents’ village which is far from here and my son was badly hurt with an axe,” she narrates, “it was my friends who took care of him. So I have seen the benefits of being in a polygamous marriage.”
By “friends” Esnart is referring to the other wives of her husband’s.
And while many women will frown upon this marriage, raising issues of jealousy, these four wives claim they live in harmony.
“When I came here, my friends received me very well, we don’t fight. The two women I found were very kind, and even the fourth one who joined us later was also kind-hearted and so we live happily together,” says Florence Tembo, who is wife number three.
For Florence, this is her second polygamous relationship.
Before she got married to Mr Phiri, Florence was married to a man who had three wives. She now boasts of some experience in such affairs.
“Being in a polygamous marriage is not difficult,” she says.
Mr Phiri met Florence at gule (a cultural festival of the Chewa that brings out masked men called nyau to perform various dances).
Mr Phiri says Florence was smitten by his drumming, and the two fell in love almost immediately.
But while the women seem very tolerant and accommodating of each other, any suggestion of a fifth wife gets even the less vocal of the four raising their voices in protest. It seems five is a crowd.
“We can’t allow a fifth wife because she will just bring trouble. The four of us are enough,” says Lizyness.
But it is Esnart, the fourth wife, who makes the strongest protest.
“He has already divided the field among us and, look, there is not enough space in this compound to build a fifth house. If she comes, we won’t be nice to her,” she says as they all giggle and laugh, like a bunch of sisters.
Mr Phiri’s homestead has four small houses of burnt bricks with thatched roofs. He has also apportioned a field to each of the four wives to cultivate.
But maybe the four women will not have to worry much about a fifth addition to their household.
“Right now I don’t have any lovers outside my home, I have all I need. I’m now satisfied,” says Mr Phiri.
Mr Phiri is not the only one in Chief Chanje’s chiefdom who has married more than one wife. Polygamy is a common practice among the villagers here.
Malamulo Zulu married his first wife in 2000 and in 2013, he married a second wife.
“I decided to marry a second wife because whenever my wife went to visit her parents, I remained alone to take care of the children,” says the 38-year-old peasant of Dongolose village.
Unlike Mr Phiri, Mr Zulu did not face any objection from his wife to marry a second wife.
“I allowed it because it helps a lot. When one is sick, for example, the other is able to help,” says Mr Zulu’s first wife, Misozi Banda.
In fact, Misozi speaks well of the second wife, Clara.
“She is a well-mannered woman,” she says of her.
Misozi says as long the women are united, there are no feelings of jealousy between them.
She says she and her husband’s second wife are now like twins, doing many things together.
“Sometimes we even bathe together,” she says.
As for Clara, she says she doesn’t have any feelings of being second wife.
“I feel like I’m his only wife,” she says, leaning against her husband.
There is no hint of jealousy in Misozi’s face, who is sitting on the other side.
Mr Zulu says he has no plans of marrying another wife, “unless I find a problem with my current two wives.”
But if he marries a third wife, he risks being excommunicated from his church.
Mr Zulu and his family are devoted members of the Last Church of God and His Christ, which allows polygamous relationships, but only if one married more than one wife before joining the church.
In fact Mr Phiri is the pastor of that church.
Both Mr Phiri and Mr Zulu say having many wives has helped them to avoid extramarital affairs.
“There are some men who condemn polygamous marriages, but they have many girlfriends and they even have children with those girlfriends. It’s better you bring those children home so that you raise them together with your other children. Even when I die, these children will support each other,” says Mr Phiri.
For Mr Zulu, marrying more than one woman also stops one from spending on girlfriends.
“Many husbands spend a lot of money on girlfriends, but it’s better you marry that woman so that you spend the money within your home,” he says.
But it seems the men here also marry more wives for economic reasons.
“Instead of engaging a worker from elsewhere, it’s better to get another wife so that you work together to develop your farm,” Mr Zulu says.

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