French English Back Back

STORIES FROM AFRICAN POLYGAMY


Frédérique Jouval

Poligamy has not been tolerated in France since the passage of the 1993 Pasqua law which prohibits legal foreign workers from sending for their families. For an entire generation of Africans, particularly from Western Africa, poligamy is so deeply rooted in their way of life that they continue the practice in France as « back home » even at risk of violating the law. The women themselves say , « It’s like that at home », but behind all that…. Poligamy is « an ancestral custom « and a sign of wealth dating from a time when it was necessary to increase the productivity of the life-sustaining activites of agriculture and fishing. The custom has had the practical effect of increasing the number of hands therby developing the local economy. After having started my work in France and running into the difficulties inherent in phtotgraphing an illlegal activitiy, I decided to actually go to Mali to better understand the reality and the consequences of poligamy from the ground. Each portrait caries its own personal story, joyful or painful. In France and iin Mali, I met ploygamous families in order to explore the diffeent factes of their reality : forced separation of wives and families, economic difficulties, rejection of children, HIV transmission, children who are lost in parental conficts. Beyond these problems, I also witnessed families living happily within this cultural tradition. Women are at the center of these different issues. This cultural tradition is the source of a great deal of suffering in many cases. The family conflicts are fanned by the rivalries between wives which in turn have an impact on the childhood experiences of the children who often end up used as pawns in the battles.


 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071301

It is his father who has chosen his wives. He never really wanted to live in polygamy but according to the customs, he doesn’t have the right to disobey his father. Ladji Djimba is from the Peul ethnic group who, by in large, are people who have clear and honest personal relationships. Problems of discord between wives are very rare indeed within this ethnic group.

Baala, Mali - 19/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071313

" You don't have a choice, it is the parents who decide ! " This is what was said to her when she was presented to her future husband who was older and already married. Foulematou was just 15 years old when she met the first wife of her husband, a woman who has to this day never accepted her. To her great dismay, Foulématou had only one child, a son who is now 20 years old. For the past 20 years, she has barely spoken to the first wife and feels quite lonely. At the same time, they fight frequently sometimes in front of the husband who intervenes fairly but who has not been able to calm their animosity much. She loves her husband and feels he is fair. He has just married another woman whose husband had died so that she would not be alone. Foulématou gets along well with her.

Tantujy, Mali - 18/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071588

Lieu de cuisine

Baala, Mali - 08/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071351

Sirima has three wives. The first marriage was arranged by his parents. His second wife is his cousin who was 14 when his uncle offered her to him in an effort to solidify the family structure. Fanta, his third wife, is his love story. She was married to a man who left her and her co-wife in the care of his parents, only to never return. Upon returning to her home village, she met Sirima.

Baala, Mali - 15/05/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071353

Sirima has three wives. The first marriage was arranged by his parents. His second wife is his cousin who was 14 when his uncle offered her to him in an effort to solidify the family structure.

Baala, Mali - 20/12/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071350

Sirima au centre est entouré de ses seize enfants dont l’aîné, vingt-deux ans, tient dans ses bras son premier enfant. Le plus jeune des enfants de Sirima a 9 mois. Ses trois épouses sont debout au dernier rang.

Baala, Mali - 15/05/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071401

Aminata is a second wife, a Mauritanian living in France with her seven children. In order to renew her Carte de Sejour since the Pasqua Law passed, she has had to file for a divorce which she received in 2000. Hopeless after not being able to find housing, she still lives in the same apartment with her former husband and his first wife who has never accepted her. The children of the first wife even beat her. Her own children are afraid and dare not do anything about it.

Bobigny, Île de France, France - 14/11/2003

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071587

Lieu de cuisine

Komodindé, Mali - 05/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071407

In the courtyard of the women’s prison in Bole ( Bamako, Mali ) Sally Ballo sits having been imprisoned for infanticide. Mistreated by the first wife of her father, she left her village to try to live independently in the city. Without access to contraception, she quickly became pregnant. The father of her child abandoned her, and after giving birth, she took the very life she had just created.

Bamako, Mali - 18/05/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071411

Her parents arranged her marriage, requiring her to accept it. Neïmouna nevertheless refused and felt she was too young to marry. Her parent then tied and beat her until she acquiesced. Though married, she refused her husband's advances who then raped her. After the first night, she escaped into the bush to hide. She was found a few weeks later and returned to her husband, who then asked the father to come over. Neïmouna thought that her running away had annuled the marriage and that her father had come to take her home. Instead, he beat her and threatened to kill her if she continued to refuse this marriage. With her father's honor at stake, the marriage could not be annuled. A man from the village intervened to calm the father down and asked the husband to do the same while asking him to be patient with his very young second wife explaining he could not force her so violently. After this event she continued to run away every night. The husband waited patiently. Since then, they have had 5 children together and she says she is happy with him. The first wife watched all the rebellion at the beginning and never really accepted her. There was never any "womanly understanding' offered and little shared between them. They are often in conflict with one another.

Baala, Mali - 07/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071344

Bassil was 8 years old when his mother, the first wife, could no longer stand the presence of the second wife and decided to leave the family compound leaving her children behind as is the cutom, and returning to her father’s house. The second wife never wanted her children to speak to those of the first wife. The father, under the influence of the second wife, barely provded the minimum care for the four children of his first marriage. At the slightest altercation between the half-siblings, the father without trying to understand the nature of the problem, always took the side of the children of the second wife. After a fight with the eldest child of the second wife, the father decided to stop paying for Bassili’s education. At present, Basili lives at the home of a friend supporting himself as best he can.

Ségou, Mali - 18/11/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071355

HIV +, Hawa discovered her HIV status during her 4th pregnancy. Her husband was summoned to the hospital to be tested, though he never wanted to tell anyone what the results were. His 2-year old second child that he had with his second wife, is chronically sick. He sometimes writes his own prescriptions for the child without consulting a physician.

Kayes, Mali - 30/11/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071318

Abbas, 13 years old, was found two years ago during nighttime rounds by an association that cares for homeless children living on the street. His mother, the second wife, was not the favorite of the father. The first wife used to instigate fights between her children and those of the second wife. One day the two woman began fighting violently to the point where neighbors had to intervene and separate them. Whenever the father returned to the household, he used to take the side of the first wife, even threatening to kill the second wife. Abbas fought one day with his half-brother and the first wife intervened trying to hit him with a wooden pole. When that proved unsuccessful, she took a knife from the kitchen and stabbed him in the shoulder. His own mother asked him to leave the house for his own protection, and to try to find some money for her because she had none whatsoever. Being the oldest of his three brothers, he felt responsible for the family and left to panhandle in the streets of Bamako. He is ready to do anything to help his mother. As soon as he collects a little bit of extra money beyond what he needs to feed himself, he gives it to her. In most cases, it is the children who are the worst-affected victims of the hatred between the co-wives.

Bamako, Mali - 14/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071409

Ambiance chambre

tantujy, Mali - 20/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071342

Djénéba fell in love with her future husband at the age of 14. He was not yet married. He is the only man she has ever known. She was 8 months pregnant with her third child when she learned that she had contracted HIV. Makan, her husband, had hidden his HIV + status from his two wives. By sheer luck, the third child by Djénéba is not HIV +, but Tata, the 6-year old daughter of the first wife is. Djénéba is receiving daily treatment. She didn’t know if her 10-month old child is HIV + or not. Her faith in God helps her to accept these difficulties.

Bamako, Mali - 23/11/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071314

Makan is married to two women and is the father of seven children. It was during a check-up following an illness that he discovered he was HIV positive. For almost a year, fearing the reaction of his wives, he remained silent. His two wives and one of their daughters aged 6 have contracted HIV and have become seropositive. Makan and his second wife are being treated daily for the virus.

Kayes, France - 23/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071404

Fatou, a widow, was the second wife of her late husband who died 4 years ago of serious pulmonary complications, though the hospital never explained what the cause was. Due to an information and HIV testing campaign, she learned that she was in fact HIV positive as her husband had also been. The youngest of her five daughters, aged 10, is also HIV positive. Fatou became active in an association fighting against AIDS and created an outreach program in the Kayes region. She has not heard from her co-wife who left the household before the illness of the husband.

Kayes, Mali - 22/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071287

Fanta, première épouse. Fanta, mariée à l’âge de dix-sept ans, a vu son mari s’éloigner d’elle à l’arrivée de sa seconde épouse. Il l’ignore totalement pendant qu’elle gagne sa vie en vendant des produits sur le marché. Lorsqu’il tombe malade, le mari demande pardon à Fanta. Sans ressource, il compte sur elle pour régler les frais médicaux. Généreuse, elle s’occupe de lui jusqu’à son décès et prend aujourd’hui en charge sa co-épouse et leurs quatorze enfants. Le maigre revenu ne suffit pas pour acheter la quantité de riz nécessaire pour se nourrir.

Bamako - 14/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071583

Ambiance chambre

Bamako, Mali - 00/00/0000

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071354

Aïssetou grew up in Burkina Fasso at the home of one of her uncles where she was quite happy. At 16, her family arranged a forced marriage in Mali unbeknownst to her. Summoned to join her husband, she instead escaped into the bush. Caught by her uncles, she was handed over to the husband who raped her in front of them. Today her co-wife has accused Aïssetou of murdering her young daughter who had been left in Aïssetou's care. She is awaiting a judgement in the case which could send her to prison for 20 years. She maintains her innocence declaring the accusation is based purely in jealousy.

Bamako, Mali - 17/11/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071316

Fanta lived in monogamy with her husband for 5 years until his father chose a second wife for him whom he could not refuse. The husband, struck by the youth of the second wife, no longer paid any atttention to Fanta. The second wife never tried to take advantage of her prefered status and the two woman got along without conflicts. The husband then died, leaving the two of them without resources. Since his death, Fanta who has supported the family by selling vegetables, has taken responsibility for the second wife and the 7 youngest children of the 14 between them still living at home. Their meager income is not enough to buy the rice necessary to feed them all.

Bamako, Mali - 08/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071403

Gogo rencontre son futur mari et accepte de l'épouser alors qu'il a déjà une épouse. Gogo met her future husband and accepted to marry him even though he already has a wife.

Kati, Mali - 13/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071405

His first wife was the love match. The next three are the wives of his brothers who he had to marry following their deaths.

Kessignané, Mali - 29/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071586

the Peul ethnic group who, by in large, are people who have clear and honest personal relationships. Problems of discord between wives are very rare indeed within this ethnic group.

Tantujy, Mali - 28/11/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071578

It is his father who has chosen his wives. He never really wanted to live in polygamy but according to the customs, he doesn’t have the right to disobey his father. Ladji Djimba is from the Peul ethnic group who, by in large, are people who have clear and honest personal relationships. Problems of discord between wives are very rare indeed within this ethnic group.

Baala, Mali - 05/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071343

Coumba was 15 years old when her parent arranged her marriage to a man who took her off to Abidjan ( Ivory Coast) to look for work. They had two children and then her husband started beating her almost every night. Her Malian friends in the community there helped her escape and return to her family. She married a second time to an older man who had noticed her when vacationing in their village. He seduced and married her and reluctantly she followed him to Bamako where he lived, only to discover that she had just become his sixth wife. The first wife was a violent woman who beat her and incited the other wives to do the same. The husband would spend two nights with each wife before moving on to the next. so Coumba would see him every 12 days for 48 hours. Her husband ended up pennyless and died five years ago. She still lives with the first wife who ignores her and her children. Coumba is without any money and has a 22- year old son who developed severe mental problems about 7 years ago. Only the son of one of her co-wives helps her financially, a young man she had taken care of when he was young. The few heads of cabbage that she sells at the market are not enough to support her. Coumba is a broken woman, at the end of her rope.

Bamako, Mali - 08/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071585

Ambiance chambre

kayes, Mali - 19/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071805

Fatoumata lived in France for 15 years with her husband until he brought a second wife from his home country. She felt « betrayed to her very core » . Not only did she lose her place in the family, but the F3 apartment became too cramped to house the husband, the two wives and their 10 children. She refused to live under those conditions and decided to leave. She moved out with her 5 children leaving everything behind and started divorce proceedings. For that, she was rejected by the community and endured great hardship before finally rebuillding her life step by step.

Chanteloup les vignes, île de France, France - 20/12/2003

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071804

Fatoumata is a second wife who was separated from the family and relocated by the city. Some municipalities ( Mantes-la-jolie, les Mureaux…) assist polygamous families in obtaining housing for the second wife and her children. In many instances, she is also obliged to get divorced. As required by the custom, the husband continues to divide his time equally among his wives.

Île de France, France - 13/11/2003

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071288

Diarra was 20 years old in 1968 when he came to France looking for work. In 1974, he returned to Mali and married his first wife with whom he lived for two years before heading back to France. He left her and their children with his parents, agreeing to send money to support them. A decade later, he suggested taking on a second wife who could help the first wife with all the chores and housework necessary at the parents house such as pounding the grain, working in the fields, doing the shopping, taking care of the children, and cooking for the entire family…. His third wife was the the wife of a friend who had died leaving her alone with two children. He lives in a small room with a shared kitchen in Montreuil. For 8 years he has worked 16-hour days which has allowed him to finance the construction of a real cement house for his family in Mali. Every year he returns and spends 3-4 months with his family and his three wives.

yaguiné, Mali - 22/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071589

Ambiance chambre

kessignané, Mali - 12/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071317

Séga lived with a man for 12 years having 5 children with him, until his death. She had refused to marry him because in Africa, a married woman can no longer work. At that time, she completed her studies in nursing. At 29 years old, she met and married a man who already had a wife. Strong-willed and hard-headed, she didn't get along with him and after a year of living together she asked for a divorce. They had a son together during that year. A few years later, not wanted his son to grow up without him, the father asked Séga to marry him again. She accepted, but, as in the meantime he had married a second wife, she became the third. Séga continues to practice nursing, and has chosen to live near her mother who needs her, not sharing in the daily life of her co-wives. This situation causes her to suffer from her feelings of jealousy.

Bamako, Mali - 23/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071406

Ambiance chambre

Bamako, Mali - 22/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071582

Sixty-year-old Coumba is the widow of her first husband. After the usual one-year period of mourning, she accepted to become the second wife of a man from her village who had left to settle in the city. To earn some money she cultivates her corn field. It is common to propose to a young widow so that she's not left alone and penniless. Occasionally her husband comes back to the village to spend several days with her.

Komodindé, Illimané cercle, Mali - 27/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071591

Sixty-year-old Coumba is the widow of her first husband. After the usual one-year period of mourning, she accepted to become the second wife of a man from her village who had left to settle in the city. To earn some money she cultivates her corn field. It is common to propose to a young widow so that she's not left alone and penniless. Occasionally her husband comes back to the village to spend several days with her.

Komodindé, Illimané cercle, Mali - 27/12/2005

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071286

Fatou, seconde épouse. Fatou qui n'est pas très érudite pour gagner de l'argenta beaucoup de chance. Après le décès de son mari, les tabous de la jalousie épuisés, sa co-épouse plus volontaire l'a prise en charge, elle et ses sept enfants.

Bamako, Mali - 25/01/2006

 

Frédérique Jouval / Picturetank JOF0071849

Aminata is a second wife, a Mauritanian living in France with her seven children. In order to renew her Carte de Sejour since the Pasqua Law passed, she has had to file for a divorce which she received in 2000. Hopeless after not being able to find housing, she still lives in the same apartment with her former husband and his first wife who has never accepted her. The children of the first wife even beat her. Her own children are afraid and dare not do anything about it.

Bobigny, Île de France, France - 14/11/2003



top