And Baby Makes 300?

Updated May 16, 2021 | David Johnson

Prolific fathers provide new twist to "all in the family"

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Hey dads, the next time you feel frustrated keeping up with your typical American brood of one, two, or maybe three children, just remember the name Ancentus Akuku.

In 2000, the BBC News reported that Akuku, his wives, and children have solved a rather uncommon family problem: they couldn't all fit into their church so they built a new one just for themselves.

An ethnic Luo from western Kenya, Akuku has been married more than 100 times. He has been divorced roughly 30 times, and he thinks he has more than 160 children, but has apparently lost track. Now 84, Akuku married Josephine, his newest wife, seven years ago and they have a son.

If You Can Afford It

According to the BBC, polygamy is a tradition among the Luo, who permit a man more than one wife, as long as he can provide for her and their children.

Not surprisingly, Akuku is quite well off. He owns a fleet of taxis, (driven by his sons), a general store (run by another son), and a tailor's shop (run by a daughter). In fact, Akuku appears to be connected, either by blood or marriage, to all the businesses in the area.

Correct Definitions

While polygamy has come to mean having more than one wife, it actually means having more than one spouse, and therefore could apply to women with more than one husband.

The correct term for having more than wife, polygyny, is not widely used. Polyandry means having more than one husband.

A Dying Tradition in Africa?

Some observers believe polygamy is no longer as widespread in Africa as it once was. Many women have been influenced by western values and do not want to be a second, third, or tenth wife.

In addition, Christian missionaries frown on the practice, although often, as in Akuku's case, religious leaders ignore the practice in favor of establishing congregations in an area.

Lively Debates

However, Islam traditionally permits its followers to marry up to four wives, and the debate over polygamy has cropped up around the world—especially within Muslim-majority countries. 

In Uganda, for instance, where traditional practices do not limit the number of wives a man may have, a proposal to limit the number of wives to two was opposed by both Muslims and Christians. Local Muslims wanted to be allowed four wives, while Christians favored only one.

Many other Muslim-majority countries restrict polygyny on religious grounds. Tunisia outright banned having multiple wives, claiming that the Quran requires that a man treat all of his wives equally, but since that is functionally impossible they don't consider it legally permissible. Other countries allow women to stipulate in their wedding terms that their husband won't take any other wives. However it's practiced, it is fairly controversial across the Muslim world. 

Against the Law in Trinidad

Meanwhile, Black World Today reports that while polygamy is illegal in the West Indian nation of Trinidad and Tobago, it is widespread among the island's substantial Muslim population, whose ancestors were brought from India by the British as indentured servants.

The Trinidad Muslim League has urged the law be changed to allow four wives.

Russia Says No

In July 1999, the Russian justice department dismissed a request by Ingushetia, a predominantly Muslim region in the Caucasus, to allow a man to marry up to four wives provided the first wife agrees. The issue has been discussed in several newly independent Central Asian nations as well.

Royal Dads

In some cases, men may have many more than four wives, particularly in Saudi Arabia. For instance some members of the Saudi Arabian royal family have received considerable publicity for their numerous wives and children.

While exact numbers are often hard to determine because of a strong tradition of family privacy, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Saud is believed to have had some 80 children by 20 wives. His son, the late King Fahd, had three wives and 13 children, making them both prolific dads.

Utah Tops the List

In the United States polygamy has traditionally been practiced only by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons. In order for Utah to become a state in 1896, Mormon Church leadership officially ended their support of polygamy. However, an estimated 50,000 Mormon fundamentalists, many of whom have been excommunicated by their church, still practice polygamy.

However, non-polygamous Mormons still have higher birthrates than the United States as a whole, so states with sizable Mormon populations lead the list of US state birthrates.


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