Yes, polygamy is banned by law in most countries of the world. However, it’s still practiced to this day, and, surprisingly, it’s practiced a lot.
In the U.S.A. there are many families living isolated, keeping a low profile, in order to stay away from the authorities and be prosecuted by law. On the other hand, some families decided to be open about their lifestyle to the public. A few TV reality shows were produced following the lives of polygamous families.
It’s less known that there are two forms of polygamy; one of them is when a man marries more than one wife, which is polygyny, and the other being polyandry which is when a woman has more than one husband. You can imagine that the first form of polygamy is most common, while Tibetan, Toda, Sherpa, and Marquesan are the only four societies that practice polyandry today.
In some cultures it represents a status symbol, the more women he marries, the more successful and powerful the man becomes. By unwritten law, a man can marry as many women as long as he can provide them quality life. Usually each woman has to have their own house, and be well treated.
Many debates arise about connections between religion and polygamy, and what is allowed and what is banned by religion or law, which is another article in itself. For the purpose of this article we are counting down the biggest polygamous families based on number of family members in total.
10. South African businessman married four women at the same time: 13 Family Member
Milton Mbele, 44, has a total of four wives and eight children. He really pushed the limits of the traditional perception of getting married. Four brides were walking down the aisle, in white gowns, saying “We do”, instead of the usual ” I do” sentence. The women did agree it was strange that Milton wanted to marry them all at the same time, but since they love him and know he is a kind and caring man, they accepted this peculiar request.
Milton is claiming that he loves and respects all of his wives equally, and shows this commitment by wearing four rings on his finger. The wives live in separate houses, and Milton visits each wife once a week, and takes three days for himself to rest. He owns 100 cows and 250 goats, has a good job and, by traditional standards, he is relatively wealthy.
9. Sister Wives – Browns Family
The Brown family became famous when the TV show Sister Wives started broadcasting on TLC, in 2010. It is reality show that follows the life of a polygamous family living in Utah, where the husband has four wives and 17 children. Kodi and his wives were stating that they started doing the show with a wish to fight social prejudices and raise the awareness of the public about polygamous families.
8. Jacob Zuma – President of South Africa
President Zuma was married six times, but he is currently married to four wives and has a total of 20 children. He divorced one of his original six wives and another committed suicide. The last woman he married was in 2012. In total Zuma has 20 children, not all of them being from his wives, but he has legally accepted the fatherhood for all of his children.
In 2012, before getting married again, Zuma renovated his house and has built extra units for each wife to have her own house. This controversial politician has been accused of corruption and rape, but it seems like nothing can stop him.
7. Darger Family, Utah
Joe, Vicky, Valerie, and Alina Darger (with a total of 24 children) are the activists of the decriminalization of polygamy, who are living in Utah. Their family was the inspiration for the series Big Love, on HBO, and they appeared on the show Sister Wives as well. They describe themselves as independent fundamentalist Mormons. The scandal with the FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, prosecution and discovery of sexual abuse of minors within this sect really shook the public and the perception of polygamous communities. As a reaction to that and the wish to reshape the view of polygamous families, they wrote the book Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage.
6. Ikhwan Polygamy Club, Malaysia
Mohd Nizamuddin Ashhar is a member of the Ikhwan Polygamy Club. He is 48 years old, having four wives and 24 children. They live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where polygamy is actually legalized, with a condition that the husband can have a maximum of four wives. The Ikhwan Polygamy Club stated that they have around 1,000 members from Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, the Middle East and Europe. They were under the suspicion of the government that they’re trying to revive the cult of al-Arqam, which was banned in 1994 for “deviant” religious teachings.
5. Williams Family, Utah
Brady Williams, and his five wives recently started sharing their private life with the public. The reality series My five Wives, about the family, is broadcasting on TLC, and they say they feel a great relief since they started doing the show. For them, it seems like they don’t need to hide any more and the sensation is very liberating. All together they have 24 children and live in their home in Salt Lake City.
4. Kisah Abuya Ashaari Muhammad, Malaysia
Ashaari Muhammad also known as Abuya, has died recently, at the age of 72. He was the founder of the Muslim sect al-Arqam, which was set up in 1968. It had around 10,000 followers, many of them well-educated Muslims. Abuya was married five times, but the most wives he had at once was four. He had 38 children, and 203 grandchildren.
Abuya became famous for promoting polygamy. Since the sect was banned, he was forced to leave Malaysia. He was arrested in Thailand, and brought back to Malaysia and detained under the Internal Security Act.
3. Joe S. Jessop and his family, Utah
Joe S. Jessop is a respected member of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and has five wives, 46 children, and 239 grandchildren. As a young boy he came to Short Creek, where there existed only seven houses at the time. Now, the community has about 6,000 inhabitants, all of them being FLDS members. Joe’s family came to Short Creek “To obey the law of plural marriage, to build up the kingdom of God.” as he stated. FLDS split from the Mormon Church after they banned multiple marriages.
2. Verlan LeBaron and Irene Spencer Story
Irene Spencer got married to Verlan Le Baron whose previous wife was Irene’s sister. Verlan had 10 wives in total and altogether 58 children. The family spent a great deal of their lives running away from Verlan’s brother who wanted to kill the family. They were running through Mexico, always moving around and changing places, living under horrible conditions. Irene had difficult times living in this polygamous family, but was afraid to leave, since childhood she thought she would go to hell if she didn’t sacrifice for her family. When she realized there was no worse hell than the one she was already living in, she gathered the strength and escaped. Irene is now married to one husband, and has 118 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren.
1. The Biggest Family in The World
Ziona Chana is living in India with his 39 wives, 94 children, 14 daughters-in-law, and 33 grandchildren. The biggest house in the village is theirs, with 100 rooms. In 1942, Ziona Chana formed the Christian sect that allows the members to take as many wives as they want. For one single dinner, the family needs 30 chickens. With such a big family Ziona feels blessed, and he says that the family gets along really well, treating each other with respect and love. He stated to the media that he’s still looking for his next wife.