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Anthropologist Jack Goody's comparative study of marriage around the world utilizing the Ethnographic Atlas demonstrated an historical correlation between the practice of extensive shifting horticulture and polygamy in the majority of sub-Saharan African societies.Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that the sexual division of labour varies between the male-dominated intensive plough-agriculture common in Eurasia and the extensive shifting horticulture found in sub-Saharan Africa.Goody, however, observes that the correlation is imperfect and varied, and also discusses more traditionally male-dominated though relatively extensive farming systems such as those that exist in much of West Africa, especially in the West African savanna, where polygyny is desired more for the creation of male offspring, whose labor is valued. He notes Dorjahn's (1959) comparison of East and West Africa, showing higher female agricultural contributions in East Africa and higher polygyny rates in West Africa, especially the West African savanna, where one finds especially high male agricultural contributions.Goody says, "The reasons behind polygyny are sexual and reproductive rather than economic and productive" (199), arguing that men marry polygynously to maximize their fertility and to obtain large households containing many young dependent males." Polygynous marriages fall into two types: sororal polygyny, in which the co-wives are sisters, and non-sororal, where the co-wives are not related.

It is associated with partible paternity, the cultural belief that a child can have more than one father.The family of the late wife, in other words, must provide a replacement for her, thus maintaining the marriage alliance.Both levirate and sororate may result in a man having multiple wives.This provides support for the widow and her children (usually also members of the brothers' kin group) and maintains the tie between the husbands' and wives' kin groups.The sororate resembles the levirate, in that a widower must marry the sister of his dead wife.

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