I am always amazed at how ancient systems come about a precise knowledge of human nature, and how these systems are found all over the world, indigenous to so many societies. Below are verses from the odu ifa, a divination and wisdom corpus of the Yoruba people of West Africa, sourced from my friend Adunni Abimbola Adelakun. She is currently doing doctoral work in the United States.
What strikes me is not so much the import of the verses, but how it is persuasive rather than prohibitive. This is not a thou-shalt-not. This is a you-should-not-because. And looming behind this, a sense of communal balance.
I think of this in terms of recent attempts at cultural imposition by the Greek-thought descended West on everyone else. It is the height of arrogance, I think, to assume one cultural attitude is superior to another, that there should be a single cultural attitude or that all cultures do anything other than complement each other.
“A man should marry only one wife because,
When they (women) increase to two, they
When they increase to three, they scatter the
When they increase to four, they laugh
derisively at one another;
When they increase to five, they accuse one
another of destroying
their husband’s fortunes;
When they increase to six, they become wicked;
When they increase to seven, they become
When they increase to eight, they blame one of
their group for
bringing bad luck to their husband;
When they increase to nine, they accuse the
eldest wife of using
their husband’s wrapper-cloth;
When they increase to ten, they accuse one
another of forcing
herself upon their husband….”