Indonesia and the polygamy stir-fry: why men need more than one wife

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The Independent Online

Puspo Wardoyo is a contented man. He has four wives, 10 children and 34 grilled chicken restaurants. Indonesians, he believes, should embrace his example.

Puspo Wardoyo is a contented man. He has four wives, 10 children and 34 grilled chicken restaurants. Indonesians, he believes, should embrace his example.

Mr Puspo is campaigning to make polygamy respectable in Indonesia, where it was suppressed for decades under the former dictator, Suharto. Now it is enjoying a renaissance, thanks in part to Mr Puspo's energetic efforts to promote it as a desirable way of life.

The portly 48-year-old extols the virtues of taking a second wife, preferably four. In his Ayam Bakar Wong Solo restaurants, he preaches the message through his menu, which offers polygamy stir-fry (broccoli, mushrooms, squid and shrimp) and polygamy juice, a medley of four crushed fruits.

Mr Puspo has founded a National Polygamy Society, which compiles lists of women willing to share a husband. He offers tips to polygamists, counselling them to eat plenty of fresh fruit to maintain stamina and to refrain from complimenting one wife in front of another.

Last year he held a Polygamy award ceremony at a five-star Jakarta hotel, which was picketed by women's groups. "I want to change the image of polygamy," he said. "Before I started my campaign, it was a taboo subject. Now everyone is talking about it, and it's out in the open."

His own decision to adopt the ancient Islamic custom was taken jointly with his first wife, Rini Purwanti, whom he married in 1979. As his restaurant chain spreadacross the archipelago, he found himself often away on business. He needed to satisfy his physical urges at least once a week, but rather than visit a prostitute, the couple agreed that he should take a second wife.

His prime motivation, Mr Puspo added, was to follow the teachings of the Koran. Thus did he marry 22-year-old Supianti in 1996, followed by Anisa, 22, two years later and Intan, 24, in 2000. The trio all worked in his chicken outlets and were selected via a competition for outstanding staff.

Pictures of his four wives adorn the walls of his restaurants, which he built into a nationwide chain from a warung (food stall) in his native city of Medan, on Sumatra island.

Mr Puspo drives a red sports car with the number plate 4BINI, which means "four wives" in Javanese dialect. How can it possibly accommodate five adults, not to mention 10 children - Anis, 23, Ringin, 22, Rimbi, 21, Gena, 16, Bakar, 10, Abu, eight, Sidik, four, Rahil, three, Zaharol, two, and baby Sabik? "When we're together, I drive a bus," he said.

Two of his wives live in Sumatra, one in Jakarta and one in Java. When he travels, they take turns to accompany him.

Mr Puspo laments that polgyamy gets a bad press. "People think the wives are victims," he said. "But look at my wives, they're all happy. They have a beautiful houses, good cars. They know I love them all equally. Women's groups protest about me, but we have the same mission: to improve the dignity of women." His secretary, Kuringin Purbo Wardani, describes all four of his wives as "quiet".

Mr Puspo says satisfying their physical demands is not a problem. "There's variety and time intervals. It makes me more motivated as a man. Only one wife makes me bored. All men are like that."

Dining in the East Jakarta branch of Wong Solo, which has Javanese furniture and lime-green walls, Sofie Yulianti, 44, said that she agreed with polygamy. How would she feel if her husband of 20 years, Yusmar Mansur, took a second wife? She chortled. "As long as he's happy."

There are no reliable estimates of the number of polygamous men in mainly Muslim Indonesia. Mr Puspo says he has made many converts. His campaign has been boosted by high-profile polygamists, including the Vice-President, Hamzah Haz, who took a third wife last year.

Sadly, Mr Puspo's claim to be a model husband collapsed when he failed to recall the dates of his four weddings. It seems Rini Purwanti, Supianti, Anisa and Intan do not receive roses on their anniversaries.