Here in the Catholic Philippines, after one politician gave a speech about “family values”, a local wag wrote: Yes, we Filipinos espouse family values. We take care of all our families.
The joke was that this politician, like most politicians and rich businessmen in the Philippines, have at least one mistress and family on the side, and no one says anything about it. As long as this family is a secret, and as long as he takes care of them, such families are considered normal.
In the US, we see serial polygamy as the rule: divorce and remarriage.
In Africa, polygamy was the rule until western religion and values took over. Yet even in African tradition, the brideprice made polygamy difficult and expensive to marry.
As a result of Christian morality and African economics on marriage, women have become more valued and have some status in marriage. But they also make it hard to have a formal relationship outside of formal marriage.
So in places like Zimbabwe, where men might work in the city or mines and their wives would have to be left at home to care for the family farm, the men have a problem.
In the past, if they made enough money, they might just marry a second wife in the city. But now society frowns on that practice, even if they could afford to pay her parents. So the result was promiscuity: men could rarely afford sex, but when they did, it was usually with a sex worker who had many other contacts.
The usual scenerio was to go out drinking and have a one night stand. For poor workers, such nights out were few, but for more affluent men and unmarried students such activity might occur frequently, and the result was an epidemic of HIV that ended up killing the breadwinner, his wife in the village, and often their younger children.
Governments and NGO’s have mounted campaigns that stress limiting sex to a wife, abstinence, and condom use. But condoms are not well accepted, both because of the obvious decrease in pleasure but also because they are expensive, and often deteriorate and break in hot climates.
So now Kubatana blog reports some men are resorting to the “little house” strategy. No, not the little house on the prarie, but the little house, as in one with a mistress and second family.

A study by Gregson, in Manicaland in 2005, which helps to explain the decline in prevalence rate (from 25.5% in 1998-2000 to 18.1% in 2004) attributed this to a general decline in casual sex among young Zimbabweans and delayed sexual debut. While this has been applauded as an indication of positive behaviour change, the emergence of another phenomenon that seems to have replaced casual sex, commonly called the “small house”, is an area of concern. It seems that men are viewing small houses as a new and safer way of dealing with HIV and AIDS.

The study said the men found once they were married, their wives would frequently nag them, and would even refuse them sex when they got angry at their husbands. In the past, men would go out, get drunk, and end up having casual sex. But now, they merely go to the loving woman in the little house.

Another advantage is that the men assume their mistresses are faithful, and might even want to have children, so the men view condom use as not necessary.s

All of this brings up things like morality, women’s equality, legal status of children born to a relationship etc.

But it is one more low tech and traditional way for Africa to fight dangerous promiscuity behind the spread of HIV in that continent.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her weblsite is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she posts medical essays to Hey Doc Xanga Blog.

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