25 Years

Marital Transgressions: Infidelity, Divorce, and Polygyny in a Swahili Muslim community in Coastal Tanzania

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 12:00pm
Event Location: 
Heller Hall 537

Abstract: This work grapples with the ordinariness of infidelity – one of the ultimate transgressions in intimate relationships and its relationship to polygyny and divorce in Peponi, a rural Swahili Muslim fishing village in coastal Tanzania. Women in Peponi, push back against naturalizing arguments for polygyny, and unambiguously prefer infidelity to polygyny. In fact, they openly discuss their preference for husbands to have girlfriends and lovers rather than second and third wives. Most women articulate a desire for monogamous, romantic, and companionate marriage, and simultaneously anticipate their husbands will “look outside the marriage.” They argue infidelity is not their greatest provocation. Infidelity, and women’s tolerance of the it, must be understood in the context of men’s pursuit of polygyny and the impact it can have on their marriage (Keefe 2015, 2016). Women in Peponi openly discuss their preference for their husband’s infidelity in the form of girl friends, secret and informal wives, and short term affairs to their pursuit and achievement of a second or third wife. In fact, polygyny, it’s threat and reality, regularly prompt a path to divorce for most women. It is in this context that women prefer and, in their own way, choose infidelity.

Susi Keefe, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor in the Public Health Sciences program in the Dept. of Biology at Hamline University. Her research centers on the intersection of gender, religion and health in East Africa. Dr. Keefe earned her Ph.D. from Brown University in 2010 from the Department of Anthropology. In addition to her graduate education in the Department of Anthropology, she was a trainee of the Population Studies and Training Center (PSTC) at Brown. This training culminated in dissertation research in Tanzania funded by a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award. Based on over two years of ethnographic fieldwork in northern and coastal Tanzania, she has published articles and chapters on reproductive health and decision making, Islam and bioethics, marriage and kinship, and intimate relationships among Pare and Swahili women and men. Dr. Keefe is the newly elected President of the Tanzanian Studies Association.  She was recently awarded the Minnesota Campus Compact Award for Civic Engagement at Hamline University based on her efforts to bridge course work with community engaged scholarship in St. Paul.