Monogamy? Exoticizing a 3,000-Year-Old Pre-Christian Western Tradition

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Anthropology book series (BRIEFSANTHRO, volume 2)


The difficulty of grasping the peculiarity of one’s culture from within is overcome by taking a cultural distance. David Maillu, a Kenyan author, deciphers for us imposed Western monogamy from the viewpoint of a polygynous culture. He shows that the secretive wife-plus-mistress system is in the West a concealed equivalent of African polygyny, except that in the wife-plus-mistress model, the mistress’ children are bastards deprived of their birth-status rights, and their mothers are judged as disreputable women. Each year, large numbers of children are made social pariahs for life. Where polygyny is allowed, such social evils do not exist. All children are born legitimate, their mothers respected as official spouses. This chapter then explores the origins of imposed monogamy. It is not an idea from Jesus or the first Christian converts, who were diasporic Jews for the most part. It is hypothesized that it was imposed by second- to third-century Gentile converts safeguarding a core value of the Greco-Roman and Indo-European Pagan religion. While late Rome allowed for a monogamous marriage to be combined with legal concubinage, the Christian Church gradually delegitimized all possibilities of concubinage in addition to marriage, and by the 1500s even monogamous concubinage. Thus arose the wife and secret mistresses practices. Maillu’s critique of that system’s evils is further detailed. His exotopy makes monogamy look abnormal, not to be taken for granted. Nonetheless, Maillu’s analysis is now dated. Starting in the 1970s, granting equal birth-status rights to all illegitimate children has inadvertently made true polygamy possible in many parts of the West, alongside monogamy.


Jewish Community Serial Monogamy Illegitimate Child Polygamous Marriage Polygynous Marriage 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Concordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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