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LOUD WHISPERS: Mama Tayo’s Journey

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Friday, May 24th, 2024
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Many years ago, I had a conversation with a school mate, let me call her Tayo, who told me that she was one of six children her mother had with five husbands. I was shocked to hear this. We are brought up to believe that this is normal for men, who are entitled to a polygamous lifestyle. A woman with five husbands was something people would seriously frown at and such a woman would be labelled with every unsavoury name in the dictionary. Tayo summarised the circumstances under which her mother ended up with five husbands during the course of her life. I do not recall all the details I was given, it was years ago, so please allow me to fill in the blanks with some literary license plucked from my imagination.

 Mama Tayo married Husband 1 when she was seventeen. The family was poor and Husband 1 was a young school teacher in his twenties. He was single and seduced the naïve young girl and she became pregnant. He married her and she had two children with him. Husband 1 was a drunken brute who beat his wife non-stop, so she left with her two children after he threatened all of them with a cutlass. Husband 2 was much better. His first wife had died just after childbirth. Mama Tayo became Step-Mother to his young daughter and they all lived happily together. Then Husband 2 died suddenly in a car crash. Poor Mama Tayo was left with four children to care for – her first two, her Step-daughter and the one son she had for Husband 2. Husband 2’s family took the Step-daughter off her hands, but when she refused to give up the child she had with him, she was thrown out. Mama Tayo struggled on with petty trading till she was introduced to a middle-aged Engineer in church whose first two wives had left him. According to his story, they were infertile. He needed a family and Mama Tayo, with three biological children, was at least proof that she could give him one. That is how Uncle Engineer became Husband 3. Three years later, and with nothing to show for the Engineer’s ‘investment’ Mama Tayo found herself alone again. Uncle Engineer and his family could not justify him spending money endlessly on the children of other men while he did not have his own. Perhaps no one was willing to point out that Uncle Engineer ought to have had his sperm count checked, but remember, this was a long time ago.

Husband 4 was a musician who was quite popular and liked to have a good time with women, his two wives at home were not a hindrance. Uncle Musician was Tayo’s father. He met Mama Tayo when she was working in a restaurant. Their dalliance led to a pregnancy and since Mama Tayo needed security, she demanded that he marry her as one of his wives. He grudgingly obliged, but he agreed to rent a suitable place for her and the children, better than the one room she was ‘managing’ in a compound with other tenants. This arrangement worked till Uncle Musician became ill. Whatever the ailment was, it affected his livelihood. This in turn affected his small harem and poor Mama Tayo found herself spending whatever little she had nursing Uncle Musician, in collaboration with the other wives. During the period of his illness, the wives set aside their rivalries and pooled financial, material and spiritual resources to get him back on his feet.  When Uncle Musician got better, he repaid their efforts by sending away two of the three wives, keeping the first one. His excuse was that he could not afford to look after more than one wife. He should have thought of that before. The two wives affected were probably relieved, since his fortunes had taken a turn for the worse. He promised to continue looking after his children, a promise he never kept. Tayo was very protective of her mother and decided that the only way she could repay her for years of suffering and sacrifice was to do well in her studies.

Husband 5 was an elderly ‘returnee’ from Germany. He had grown up children who stayed back there and he was divorced from his German wife. Mama Tayo was by now in her early forties, but still quite pretty and presentable. She was also hard working, and had done a good job of looking after her children on her own. Uncle Germany wanted companionship and a housekeeper, not necessarily another family. However, due to an ‘unexpected blessing’ Mama Tayo had another child with him. Uncle Germany didn’t mind, and to the best of my knowledge, that is where Mama Tayo’s extraordinary marital journey ended, with her own version of a happy ever after. Five husbands and six children!

Recently, I was at a Gender-Based Violence Town Hall Meeting. During the interactive session, one of the female participants said that one of the reasons why there is so much dysfunction with young people today is because some mothers have multiple marital partners and fathers of their children. She said when women move from husband to husband, their children end up as miscreants. I flinched when I heard a woman say this about other women. There were gasps from some women in the audience and I could see frowns on the faces of many others from where I was sitting on the high table. The speaker had struck a nerve with her insensitive remarks. We are used to men saying those things, but a woman to other women? When it was time for me to respond, I told her that every woman’s story is different. It is not for us to pass judgement on how a woman has lived her life. We don’t know the circumstances of everyone, we don’t know what they have been through and we should have the humility to accept that some are simply luckier than others.

As I was thinking about this encounter, I decided to reconstruct the fragments of Mama Tayo’s story that I could still recall. I remember being quite alarmed when I first heard the story, and even though Tayo ran through the different reasons and characters, it still sounded rather strange to me. Now, I know better. Life has different things in store for people, regardless of dreams and aspirations. I am sure Mama Tayo did not set out at 17 planning to have six children with five husbands. Her choices were limited, and women back then (and right now) were socialized into believing they could not survive without being under a man’s roof. There are so many Mama Tayo’s out there forced to make desperate choices for survival. I do not blame them as individuals, I blame a system that does not provide the requisite information, protection and guidance for adolescent girls. I blame our inability to enforce laws (in States where we have them) which make sex with minors under 18 a crime. I blame all those who still consider marriage as career options for young women instead of prioritising education and skills acquisition. I also blame all those who heap the responsibility of bringing up children on mothers when they did not bring these children into the world on their own. Mama Tayo’s marital experiences were far from ideal, but that was her story. That was her journey. She made choices based on her own context, no matter how poor those choices might have been. Instead of passing judgement, let us be sensitive, learn, and try and help the vulnerable women and girls who we meet on our own journey.

‘Mama Tayo’s Journey’ is in ‘Demand and Supply’ (Loud Whispers Volume 3) Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, published by PRESTIGE, Farafina books, June 2023

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of, an online community for women. She can be reached at

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