A Drummer's Testament
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Chapter III-19:  Why Dagbamba Marry Many Wives   <PDF file>

Reasons why Dagbamba marry many wives; the hierarchy of wives; rooms and cooking; how the chiefs live with their wives

Paragraph outline and links
Proverbs and sayings
Dagbani words and other search terms  

Contents outline and links by paragraph  <top of page>


1.  beginning the section on householding

Marrying many wives and Dagbamba custom

2.  marrying many wives started with the chiefs, then those who could hold people, then maalams
3.  polygamy is Dagbamba custom; different from white man’s custom
4.  need more than one wife if wife travels or gives birth and goes to family house
5.  receive strangers
6.  having many wives shows respect and personhood
7.  a person without wives and children is abused as useless

Olden days difficulties to get a wife

8.  previously people only had one wife; no food
9.  strong people could collect women; whipping at the chief’s court
10.  many people became old before they could get a wife
11.  this talk from Alhaji Ibrahim’s father; even greeting elders before they had daughters
12.  chiefs got wives by force; also, women were fewer in number
13.  not sure why the women were not many in olden days; maybe war or starvation
14.  maybe the shortage of women was not because of anything

In modern times, having one wife is a problem

15.  women are more available; if one wife travels, husband is tempted to commit adultery
16.  adultery brings bad things
17.  if one wife, can be deceived; no perspective; husband will not know about the marriage
18.  one wife with one husband are happy together, until another wife comes
19.  most men with one wife want more wives
20.  a strong woman can prevent the husband from getting another wife
21.  how Christian marriage with a ring kills a family; inheritance
22.  in Christian marriage, the family is not extended
23.  one wife means worries:  poor person, useless person, villagers
24.  women are many in the towns, fewer in the villages; difficult for villagers to marry
25.  villagers with one wife suffer when the wife gives birth

How chiefs get many wives

26.  princes get wives before chieftaincy because of their respect and means
27.  titles of chiefs’ wives:  Paani and Paampaɣa are first two; last wife is Komlana
28.  women marry chiefs for money, status, and to have children who are princes
29.  chiefs also get bad women from families; also catch women; sisters’ daughters
30.  chief also gets wives from his elders when he arrives in a town

How wives get their rooms in a house

31.  how the chief groups his wives into rooms; senior wives and roomchildren
32.  wives get their own rooms by giving birth; also get cooking days
33.  Muslims are different; the wife gets a room to hold the leefɛ
34.  Muslim amaliya starts cooking immediately; young one might be trained by husband’s mother; some people wait forty days
35.  with typical Dagbamba, the wife must give birth before she gets her cooking; commoners and chiefs

Cooking, roomchildren, and sex in the chief’s house

36.  as the chief gets more wives, he may group many of them in the rooms
37.  the roomchild works for the senior wife until she gets her cooking
38.  chief sleeps with the wife who cooks
39.  two days for each wife to cook; roomchildren do not have cooking and don’t sleep with chief
40.  how the chief sleeps with the roomchildren
41.  if the roomchild gets pregnant, the child is not senior to other children
42.  the Paani will determine when to tell the chief about the child
43.  if a woman without cooking leaves a child in the chief’s house, the child will not become a chief
44.  how chiefs’ wives commit adultery; can lie about a man and give him trouble
45.  gradually the roomchildren will get their rooms, their cooking, and their own roomchildren

Others who marry many wives

46.  people with money get many wives; have to be able to feed everyone in the house
47.  maalams can marry up to four wives; the waljira is senior
48.  commoners can marry to the extent they can feed the household

Proverbs and Sayings  <top of page>

If we see someone with only one wife, we say that he is a bachelor, and we say that he doesn’t know what is inside marriage.

You cannot take your way of living and compare it to our way of living here.

A woman is the house.

If you have a friend who comes from another town to visit you, he is coming to see how your house is.  As he has come to see your house, he has come to see the women and how you live with them.

If you have no wife in Dagbon here, you are not a person.

In our Dagbamba living, somebody who is not a child, and sickness is not worrying him, if he has no wife, we call him a useless person.

It’s cool for the monkey; that is why it puts its child on its back.

You cannot take the cheeks and the temple and add them together.

A person with one wife doesn’t even know whether the woman truly likes him or not.

If somebody has one wife, he doesn’t know what is inside having women.  And if a woman is alone with her husband, she doesn’t know what is inside having a husband.

It is when you have many women that you know what is in women and in men.

Is it not in greeting that we know there is family?

In a village, when a village woman gives birth, the man also gives birth.

If a lizard doesn’t take his hand to press his rib-bone to see how strong it is, it will never fall into water.

They have gathered her cooking.

Key words for ASCII searches  <top of page>

Chiefs, elders, and titles
Paampaga  (Paampaɣa)

Names and people

Miscellaneous terms
cowife, cowives
housechild, housechildren
maalam, maalams
napag' zuli, napag' zuya  (napaɣ' zuli, napaɣ' zuya)
roomchild, roomchildren

Towns and places

Cultural groups