Nowadays, most Tibetan marriages are monogamous with nuclear families. However, polyandry families were common in Tibet in ancient times. Polyandry families can still be found in some rural areas of Tibet today. Polyandry is a type of polygamy in which a woman has multiple husbands. But did you know that this was a common practice in Tibet before?
In Tibet, it is customary for a woman to marry multiple husbands, most of whom are brothers, in order to keep the land within the same family under inheritance laws. Although technically illegal, the practice has no penalties and is not prosecuted.
What is Fraternal Polyandry?
Fraternal polyandry was a common type of marriage among the tre-ba class. The parents traditionally arranged marriages, often when the children were very young. Personal preferences of brides and bridegrooms were irrelevant because tre-ba marriages were decided for patrimonial reasons. In a polyandrous conjugal family, the eldest brother was usually the dominant member of the household. However, all the other brothers shared the work equally and had the right to sexual relations with their common wife, who had to treat them equally.
All children were treated equally, and a father was not permitted to show favoritism, even if he knew his biological children, because biological paternity was not considered important. Similarly, the children believed all of their uncles to be their fathers, and no child treated members of the older generation differently, even if they knew their biological father. The children typically refer to the eldest surviving husband as the father.
Divorce was a breeze. If one of the brothers in a polyandrous marriage was unhappy, all he had to do was leave the household. Tensions and clashes frequently marked polyandrous marriages for various reasons. Conflicts may arise, for example, because a younger brother wishes to challenge the authority of his eldest brother; sexual favoritism may occur, causing tension among the male partners in the marriage, especially if the brothers are of different ages. (Source: Facts and Details)
What is the Current Status of Polyandry in Tibet?
.Polyandry declined rapidly in the first decade following the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region and was outlawed as part of the “Four Olds” during the Cultural Revolution. However, as policies relaxed and the people’s commune system crumbled, it regained popularity in the 1980s.
According to a 1988 Tibet University survey, 13.3 percent of families were polyandric, and 1.7 percent were polygynous. Polyandry is prevalent throughout Tibet, especially in some rural areas of Tsang and Kham that face harsh living conditions. According to a 2008 study of several villages in the Xigaze and Qamdo prefectures, 20-50 percent of families were polyandric, with the majority having two husbands. In some remote settlements, the figure was as high as 90%.
Polyandry is extremely uncommon among city dwellers or non-agricultural households. Polyandry was still practiced in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, according to representatives of an American charity working there from 1997 to 2010.
A regulation issued by the government of Tibet Autonomous Region in 1981 approved all polygamous marriages formed before implementation but not those formed after the date, with no prosecution for violations. In practice, a family like this would be registered as a monogamous marriage between the wife and the eldest husband. (Source: Facts and Details)
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