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Friday, April 12, 2024

About love and polygamy: “The lane of love is narrow; there is room for only one”

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With Rohey Samba

These are not my words. They are the words of the Indian poet, Kabir. But they might as well have come from the well springs of my faithful mind. Craftily well spoken, I may add.
Above all, I believe in love. Yes, I do. I will defer to quote the ancient Greeks or Shakespeare, who have written rigorously on the topic. I aspire to add to this voluminous repertoire as a means to explain the inexplicable feeling, somewhat like a natural craving that once acquired may last six days, six months, six years or forever, however long that may be.

No, it is not the thump, thump of the heart that we feel when we are close to the one we desire. And it is absolutely different from lust, that momentary gratification we seek and dust off in the space of our experiences. It is not a game we play, we give a timeframe to. Yet it cures us from the ambivalence of life’s vagaries. It cures us from the demons that foster misery when life happens to us, for it imbues us with hope. Life exists for us to love and be loved.

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The ancient Greek used 7 words to define the different states of love:
Storge: natural affection, the love you share with your family.
Philia: the love that you have for friends.
Eros: sexual and erotic desire kind of love (positive or negative)
Agape: this is the unconditional love, or divine love
Ludus: this is playful love, like childish love or flirting.
Pragma: long standing love. The love in a married couple.

Philautia: the love of the self (negative or positive)
In polygamous Africa, do we know love? Here, I am referring specifically to pragma and agape as defined. When it is contextualized, love is meant for one person at a time. As succinctly described in Kabir’s poem, the lane of love is narrow; there is room for only one.

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The worst error anyone can ever make is to limit the sentiments of human beings to specific dogmas or give a one cap fits all categorization of human feelings. Thank you but no thanks…Love is greater, more potent and all-embracing than the voluminous literature that seeks to define it. Love transforms us, and in turn is transformed by us as time passes us by.

Ok, this is a very poetic portrayal, almost pathetic in its lackluster explanation. So I am going to expand on its meaning by giving concrete examples.
Here I use, doggy-eyed and nostalgic as I spoke to my Aunty about my love and eternal gratitude towards my grandma. ‘She was so very kind to me when I was young.’ I heard myself saying. To better qualify my sentiments for granny, I added, ‘she straddled me behind her back and held me as a baby. She was my mummy’s unpaid babysitter and for that I will be forever grateful.’

My Aunty nodded her head, and then she said quietly, ‘that’s what babies are meant for’. I listened keenly, seeking to find where she was actually heading. ‘They are meant to be held and loved. Your granny was doing what she ought to have done.’

At first, I thought she was jealous. I mean, of my affection for my granny. And later I realized she was just being matter of fact about the whole thing called storge, that natural affection we share with our families. It is the endless love between siblings, family and children. It is so natural we tend to take it for granted unless we begin to contextualize it, as I did back then.

Then there is the love for our friends. The best buddy love that outlives love for the familial for some people. It is love that can be so deep, it could be mistaken for blood relations. Personal feuds and vendettas have been waged as a result of this special bond. I know of people who would kill, maim and cut-off other people in their lives as a result of their deep friendships with the offended persons…
Not me ohhh. I only fight my own fights!
Then there is the love that exists between a boy and a girl, and a man and a woman. Of all the loves that transpire between humans, this love outweighs. It is the love that transcends all and has limitless boundaries. It is love as wide as space itself and yet as narrow as a one-man lane, as indeed it can accommodate one man at a time.

So where does this love reside? Is it in the heart or is it in the mind?
To begin with, I will quote from the Wolof saying that love can exist in three forms; kingelah bugal, kinga bouga and killah bugah. What this means is that, love can occur when someone is sought for one, when you seek for someone and when someone seeks after you.
When someone is sought for one, it is synonymous with arranged marriages that is prevalent in say, India and even certain tribes in The Gambia here, like the Fula’s and Serahules of old.
When you seek someone, then you actively pursue them as in dating, or asking them out before you get to ask for their hand in marriage. This is most prevalent in our times, accounting to most of our marriages nowadays.

And then there is the controversial game-changer, when someone else seeks for your hand, as in a woman seeking to marry a man. Whilst certainty not the norm, it does occur. And is gaining ground as women become more independent and more self-confident to seek after men, when they are not sought by men.
Back to the question of whether love resides in the heart or in the mind. I have had copious arguments validating both points. I however believe that love must reside in the heart in order to last as long as it takes.

The mind is a state of being reflecting our circumstances of the moment. It is subject to flitting emotions and can undergo a change in state at a jiffy, thus its temporary condition. For love to last in the mind, it needs to be constantly repleted by charms, wiles or the more scathing loyalties borne out of long-formed companionships and usage ‘meenanteh’ etc.
So my take on polygamous marriages as a reality of our times, and in light of the subject of today’s SisterSpeak.

My take is that people in polygamous relationships use both their hearts and minds to fill the empty space that is available therein for love. This shrouds the meaningful competition for affection by each organ and ultimately burns the candle at both ends for the polygamous man. Not very bad in a world where there are more women than men. Furthermore, it curbs the compulsion to cheat for men who are mainly polygamous in nature and serves as a sort of hard trick for the classic men dominance over their hearts and minds.
It’s a man’s world after all. Whether we like it or not. We cannot capitulate to their distorted view about polygamy so we learn to adapt to it.

In fact, with an appropriate sense of scale, we must be reminded that polygamy is light years older than any religion ever is, so Islam is not a culprit here. What it did when it came into existence, Islam I mean, is structure polygamy. Who ever wants you to believe otherwise is very ignorant about history or the natures of men; Caucasian, Asian or African for that matter. I have been friends with all of these peoples and trust me, being with men always means reckoning with their common history.
We can’t change them, so we, I mean us women, must try to understand them and move on with our miserable selves in the narrow lanes of our love’s course. ‘Lou gik gorr gigut gegain!’ So lets make room for positive philautia (self-love) above all else.

Happy weekend.

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