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However, the second wife will usually do the most tiresome work, almost as if she were a servant to the first wife, and will be inferior to the first wife in status.
A 1930s study of the Mende in the west African state of Sierra Leone concluded that a plurality of wives is an agricultural asset, since a large number of women makes it unnecessary to employ wage laborers.
An elderly cultivator, with several wives and likely several young male children, benefits from having a much larger workforce within his household.
By the combined efforts of his young sons and young wives, he may gradually expand his cultivation and become more prosperous.
A report by the secretariat of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) quotes: "one of the strongest appeals of polygyny to men in Africa is precisely its economic aspect, for a man with several wives commands more land, can produce more food for his household and can achieve a high status due to the wealth which he can command.".
This implies that members of a tribe, which commands a certain territory, have a native right to take land under cultivation for food production and in many cases also for the cultivation of cash crops.
Wives, on the other hand, are solely or primarily responsible for giving birth and rearing children; cultivating, processing and providing food for the family; and for performing domestic duties for the husband.
) is the most common and accepted form of polygamy, entailing the marriage of a man with several women.
Most countries that permit polygamy are Muslim-majority countries in which polygyny is the only form permitted.
Anthropologist Jack Goody's comparative study of marriage around the world, using the Ethnographic Atlas, demonstrated a historical correlation between the practice of extensive shifting horticulture and polygyny in the majority of Sub-Saharan African societies.
Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that in some of the sparsely populated regions where shifting cultivation takes place in Africa, much of the work is done by women.
The status of a mistress is not that of a wife, and any children born of such relationships were and some still are considered illegitimate and subject to legal disadvantage.