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

By Kathy Marks in Jakarta
08 July 2004

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

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

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.


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