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Polyandry families in Tibet

June,10 2023 BY Chloe Xin 0 COMMENTS

Polyandry families in Tibet

Nowadays, most Tibetan marriages are monogamous with familiar 'nuclear' families. However, polyandry families in Tibet were common in ancient times. Even today, there are polyandry families in some rural areas of Tibet. Polyandry is a form of polygamy whereby a woman has several husbands. In Tibet those husbands are often brothers, which is why it is most commonly called "Fraternal Polyandry".

Melvyn C. Goldste illustrated his idea of “"Fraternal Polyandry” in his article, entitled “When Brothers Share a Wife”. The following 4 paragraphs were what he believed. 

The mechanics of fraternal polyandry are simple. Two, three, four, or more brothers jointly take a wife, who leaves her home to come and live with them. Traditionally, marriage was arranged by parents, with children, particularly females, having little or no say. This is changing somewhat nowadays, but it is still unusual for children to marry without their parents' consent. Marriage ceremonies vary by income and region and range from all the brothers sitting together as grooms to only the eldest one formally doing so. The age of the brothers plays an important role in determining this: very young brothers almost never participate in actual marriage ceremonies' although they typically join the marriage when they reach their midteens.

The eldest brother is normally dominant in terms of authority, that is, in managing the household, but all the brothers share the work and participate as sexual partners. Tibetan males and females do not find the sexual aspect of sharing a spouse the least bit unusual, repulsive, or scandalous, and the norm is for the wife to treat all the brothers the same.

Concern over the delicate question of which children are fathered by which brother falls on the wife alone. She may or may not say who the father is because she does not wish to create conflict in the family; she may also be unsure who the biological father is.

Offspring are treated similarly. There is no attempt to link children biologically to particular brothers, and a brother shows no favoritism toward his child even if he knows he is the real father because, for example, his other brothers were away at the time the wife became pregnant. The children, in turn, consider all of the brothers as their fathers and treat them equally' even if they also know who is their real father. In some regions children use the term "father" for the eldest brother and "father's brother" for the others, while in other areas they call all the in such cases, all the children stayed in the main household with the remaining brother(s), even if the departing brother was known to be the real father of one or more of the children's brothers by one term, modifying this by the use of "elder" and "younger".

The number of monks in Tibet in 1950 was about 110,000 -- which would be the equivalent per capital of the US having 27 million monks, of which about 35 percent would be of marriageable age. This creates a shortage of available males; and in many sparsely populated areas, it is hard to find a suitable spouse. Sometimes, in order to maintain a household and to avoid the dividing of property, a younger son is sent to the monastery to be a monk -- the equivalent of knighting a younger son without property in England -- and when the younger brother reaches adulthood, he shares his elder brother's wife.

Initially, when Tibet got liberated, political systems in many regions of Tibet remained unchanged. Then starting between 1959 and 1960 political reforms changed the land ownership and taxation systems. Professor Melvyn Goldstein believed this had a direct impact on Tibet's traditional marriage system. With the change of the social stratification as a result of land ownership and taxation systems, the du-jung and the mi-bo lower classes were the first to avoid the intra-marriages that characterized the older society.

However, as part of its population control measures, the Chinese government later forbade polygamous marriage altogether under family law. Even though it is currently illegal, after collective farming was phased out and the farmed land reverted in the form of long-term leases to individual families, polyandry in Tibet is de facto the norm in rural areas.

Chloe Xin

About the Author - Chloe Xin

My Name is Chloe, Senior Trip Advisor for Tibet trip with 5 years working experince in Tibet tourism. Loving Tibet, loving all beautiful thing around.A great funs of nature, with piercing eyes to find beauty in both Nature and People. Patient, Warm Hearted , Considerate, Easy- going , Knowledgeable and always ready to offer help to some one in need.

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