I had a chat with a colleague of mine at the university, that concerned personal relationships and he mentioned that it was not in our culture to be polygamous. I had to correct him on this because I do not know why but the idea that the Asian culture is monogamous is just silly.
All throughout our region, monogamy is a new development. Polygamy was a totally accepted concept in the various cultures throughout the region. In fact, this was also true in Malaysia up until recent history, particularly with the inception of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.
Sections 5 and 6 of the Reform Act introduced monogamy into our community, which by religion and custom, had always practised polygamy. However, this act does not apply to Muslims, natives of Sabah and Sarawak, and Orang Asli. Muslims in Malaysia, are allowed to be polygamous – with up to four wives at a time.
I think that this myth stems from our local divide-and-conquer mentality, where the non-Muslims generally like to differentiate themselves from the local Muslims. One facet of differentiation would be the practice of monogamy. As a result of a single generation of monogamous families, we now think that it is our ‘culture’ to be monogamous, which in fact, it is not.
This is the danger of mixing customary laws in with common law.
I would like to correct this myth and state for a fact that – it is in the Asian culture in general – to be polygamous. This is true all throughout the Far-East to the Middle-East. However, the practice of polygamy was generally limited to those of means only, due to constraints.
Monogamy is a recent invention of man, not Asian culture as we like to think of it.