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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The Myths of Polygamy: A History of Extra-Marital and Multi-Partnership Sex in South Africa
Authors:Delius, Peter
Glaser, Clive
Periodical:South African Historical Journal
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:customary law
family law
marriage law
Health and Nutrition
History and Exploration
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Women's Issues
Cultural Roles
Marital Relations and Nuptiality
External link:https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02582470409464797
Abstract:This historiographical essay on extra-marital and multi-partnership sex in South Africa contests the popular appeal to a tradition of polygamous marriage as an explanation of promiscuous sexual behaviour in the present. The essay traces shifting patterns of marriage and extra-marital sex from the time of early colonial contact to the present. It argues that polygamy was less widespread than imagined and that it did not curb extra-marital sexual activity. Sex was not the cornerstone of marriage; marriage was more about the organization of the household, the transaction of cattle and the rights to offspring. This concept of marriage allowed for a more flexible and open understanding of sexual morality. The essay highlights the impact of Christianity on sexual norms and practices. By curbing open discussion on sexuality and disrupting traditional marital models, Christianity had the effect of driving extra-marital affairs underground. In addition, the essay argues that migrant labour and urbanization allowed women an unprecedented level of independence, thus making them more able to dictate the terms of sexual interaction, even in the context of marriage. Paradoxically, women's position was weakened by the erosion of social structures, kinship networks and male backlash against independent women. Notes, ref. [ASC Leiden abstract]