Polyandry in Tibet

Last updated

Polyandry is a rare marital arrangement in which a woman has several husbands. In Tibet, those husbands are often brothers; "fraternal polyandry". Concern over 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 or is unsure who the biological father is. [1] Historically the social system compelled marriage within a social class.

Contents

When the People's Republic of China annexed Tibet, political systems in many regions of Tibet remained unchanged until, between 1959 and 1960, political reforms changed the land ownership and taxation systems. [2]

Since 1981, the Tibet Autonomous Region government no longer permits new polyandric marriages 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.

Rationale behind polyandry

Studies have attempted to explain the existence of polyandry in Tibet. One reason put forward in traditional literature is that by not allowing land to be split between brothers, Tibetan families retained farms sufficiently large to continue supporting their family. Another reason for polyandry is that the mountainous terrain makes some of the farm land difficult to farm, requiring more physical strength. Women take multiple husbands because they are strong and able to help tend their land.

Historical social stratification and family structure

The Tibetan social organization under Lhasa control from the 17th century on was quasi-feudal, in that arable land was divided and owned by aristocratic families, religious organizations, and the central government and the population was subject to those district divisions. The population was further divided into social classes:

Taxpayer families

These wealthier family units hereditarily owned estates leased from their district authority, complete with land titles. In Goldstein's research about the Gyantse district specifically, he found them owning typically from 20 acres (81,000 m2) to 300 acres (1.2 km2) of land each. Their primary civil responsibility was to pay taxes (tre-ba and khral-pa means "taxpayer"), and to supply corvée services that included both human and animal labor to their district authority. [5] According to Goldstein, the entire family structure and marriage system were subordinated to serve the land and corporate family unit.

The family structure and marriage system of tre-ba were characterized by two fundamental principles:

A "stem family" is one in which a married child is inextricably linked to his natal family in a common household. The "mono-marital principle" dictates that for each and every generation, one and only one marriage is permitted collectively among all the male siblings, and the children born out of this marriage are members of the family unit who have full legal rights.

The family organization was based on these two patterns to avoid the partitioning of their estates. A generation with two or more conjugal families was seen as unstable because it could produce serious conflicts that could divide their corporate family land. As a matter of fact, Tibetan inheritance rules of family land, mainly based on agnatic links, did provide for each generation to partition the land between brothers, but this was ignored to prevent the estate unit from being threatened. Polygamous marriage, therefore arose as a solution to this potential threat.

To elucidate, consider a family with two or more sons. Tibetan inheritance rules gave all males of the family, the right to claim a part of the family estate, so if each son took a different bride, there would be different conjugal families, and this would lead to the partitioning of the land among the different sons' families. To avoid this situation, the solution was a fraternal polyandrous marriage, where the brothers would share a bride. Bi-fraternal polyandrous marriages were more common than tri-fraternal or quadri-fraternal polyandry, because the latter forms of marriage were often characterized by severe familial tensions (reference missing). Different mechanisms were employed to reduce the number of sons within a household, such as making one son a celibate monk, or sending away a son to become an adoptive bridegroom to a family without male children.

Another kind of marriage, although uncommon, is the "polygynous marriage". In a family where all the children were female, sisterly polygynous marriage represented the most common choice. In traditional inheritance rules, only males had rights over the land, but where there were no males to inherit them, the daughters had the right over the corporation’s land. To maintain the familial estate unit, the daughters would share a bridegroom who will move matrilocally (as opposed to the patrilocal principle where the brides move into the husband's family) and become a member of his wife's family.

Bigenerational polygamy was present as an application of the mono-marital principle. Consider a family in which the mother died before the son was married. If the widower remarried another woman, two conjugal families would have been created, leading to the eventual partition of the estate. Bigenerational polyandry, whereby the father shared a wife with his son, was therefore the solution to avoid this problem. Conversely, when a woman with no male offspring was widowed, she would share a husband with her daughter ("bigenerational polygyny"), thus avoiding land partitioning (reference missing).

In these mono-marital stem families, the family head, who had a dominant role in the family, was called trong bey abo (or simply abo). The abo who managed the property and resources of the family unit, was always a male, and almost invariably the oldest male of the elder generation in power. Sometimes, a younger brother would assume the abo role when the eldest male retired.

In taxpayer families, polyandrous and monogamist marriage were the more common forms of marriage, while much less widespread was the polygynous marriage. Bigenerational forms of polyandry were, however, very rare.

Householders

The householder class (du-jung or dud-chung-ba [5] ) comprised peasants who held only small plots of land that were legally and literally "individual" possessions. Land inheritance rules were different from taxpayer families, determined by the district authority and not strictly hereditary to the family unit.

The householder family structure — unlike the taxpayer families — lacked the single marriage per generation requirement to avoid land parceling. When a son married he often established a new household and split off from the original family unit. If taxpayer sons married that created succession for the family corporation and bound them to the estate for patrimonial and land reasons. Householder marriages did not incur that responsibility, and they generally married for love and were more often monogamist. The small number of polyandry cases within the householder class were limited to only the wealthier families.

Landless peasants

The landless peasants (mi-bo) were not obligated to and did not have any heritable rights to land. Like the householders, they tended to have less polyandry than the taxpayer families.

Fraternal polyandry

As has been seen, fraternal polyandry was a form of marriage that was prevalent among the tre-ba class. Traditionally, marriages were arranged by the parents, often when the children were still very young. As tre-ba marriages were decided for patrimonial reasons, the brides' and bridegrooms' personal preferences were of no consequence. In polyandrous conjugal family, the eldest brother was, more often than not, the dominant person in the household. All the other brothers, however, 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 allowed to show any favoritism, even if he knew who his biological children really were, as biological paternity was not regarded as important. Similarly, the children considered all their uncles as their fathers, and a child avoided treating members of the elder generation differently, even if they knew who their biological father was. The children would usually only address the eldest surviving husband as "father" [7] .

Divorce was quite simple. If one of the brothers in a polyandrous marriage felt displeased, he only had to leave the household. Polyandrous marriages were often characterized by tensions and clashes for a variety of different reasons. For example, conflicts might arise because a younger brother wanted to contest the authority of his eldest brother; sometimes, sexual favoritism might occur, generating tension among the male partners in the marriage, especially so when there were significant age differences among the brothers.

Current status

Polyandry declined rapidly in the first decade after the establishment of Tibet Autonomous Region, and was banned during the Cultural Revolution as part of the "Four Olds". However, it regained popularity in the 1980s as the policies relaxed and the people's commune system broke down. A 1988 survey by the Tibet University throughout Tibet found that 13.3% of families were polyandric, and 1.7% were polygynous [8] . Currently, polyandry is present in all Tibetan areas, but particularly common in some rural regions of Tsang and Kham that are faced with extreme living conditions. [9] A 2008 study of several villages in Xigaze and Qamdo prefectures found that 20-50% of the families were polyandric, with the majority having two husbands. For some remote settlements, the number was as high as 90%. [10] Polyandry is very rare among urban residents or non-agricultural households.

A regulation issued by government of Tibet Autonomous Region in 1981 approved all polygamous marriages before the date of implementation, but not those formed after the date, with no prosecution for violating the regulation. In practice, such a family would be registered as a monogamous family between the wife and the eldest husband. [11]

See also

Footnotes

Related Research Articles

Marriage Social union or legal contract between people called spouses that creates kinship

Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a culturally recognised union between people, called spouses, that establishes rights and obligations between them, as well as between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws. The definition of marriage varies around the world, not only between cultures and between religions, but also throughout the history of any given culture and religion. Over time, it has expanded and also constricted in terms of who and what is encompassed. Typically, it is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually sexual, are acknowledged or sanctioned. In some cultures, marriage is recommended or considered to be compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity. When defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal. A marriage ceremony is called a wedding.

Polygyny Mating system in which the male partner may have multiple partners

Polygyny is the most common and accepted form of polygamy, entailing the marriage of a man with several women. Polyandry is another form of polygamy in which women practice having two or more husbands. Most countries which permit polygyny are Muslim-majority countries.

Polyandry Mating system in which the female partner may have multiple partners

Polyandry is a form of polygamy in which a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time. Polyandry is contrasted with polygyny, involving one male and two or more females. If a marriage involves a plural number of "husbands and wives" participants of each gender, then it can be called polygamy, group or conjoint marriage. In its broadest use, polyandry refers to sexual relations with multiple males within or without marriage.

Polygamy is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry. If a marriage includes multiple husbands and wives, it can be called a group marriage.

Levirate marriage is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother's widow. The term levirate is a derivative of the Latin word levir, meaning "husband's brother".

Group marriage is a non-monogamous marriage-like arrangement where three or more adults live together, all considering themselves partners, sharing finances, children, and household responsibilities. Group marriage is considered a form of polyamory. The term does not refer to bigamy as no claim to being married in formal legal terms is made.

Chinese marriage Traditional marriage customs

Traditional Chinese marriage, as opposed to marriage in modern China, is a ceremonial ritual within Chinese societies that involve a union between spouses, sometimes established by pre-arrangement between families. Within Chinese culture, romantic love and monogamy was the norm for most citizens.

Husband male spouse; man who is married

A husband is a male in a marital relationship, who may also be referred to as a spouse or partner. The rights and obligations of a husband regarding his spouse and others, and his status in the community and in law, vary between societies, cultures and have varied over time.

The type, functions, and characteristics of marriage vary from culture to culture, and can change over time. In general there are two types: civil marriage and religious marriage, and typically marriages employ a combination of both. Marriages between people of differing religions are called interfaith marriages, while marital conversion, a more controversial concept than interfaith marriage, refers to the religious conversion of one partner to the other's religion for sake of satisfying a religious requirement.

Taktser Village in Qinghai, Peoples Republic of China

Taktser or Tengtser or Hongya Village is a village in Shihuiyao Township, Ping'an District, Haidong, in the east of Qinghai province, China, where Tibetan, Han and Hui Chinese live.

Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme Tibetan politician

Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme was a Tibetan senior official who assumed various military and political responsibilities both before and after 1951 in Tibet. He is often known simply as Ngapo in English sources.

Tibetan names typically consist of two juxtaposed elements.

Melvyn C. Goldstein is an American social anthropologist and Tibet scholar. His research focuses on Tibetan society, history and contemporary politics, population studies, polyandry, studies in cultural and development ecology, economic change and cross-cultural gerontology.

The serfdom in Tibet controversy is a political debate over the extent and nature of serfdom in Tibet prior to the incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1951. The ultimate goal of the debate, on the Chinese side, is to legitimize Chinese control of the territory of Tibet. The Chinese argue that Tibetan culture, government, and society were barbaric prior to the Chinese takeover of Tibet and that this only changed due to Chinese influence in the region. Hence, the serfdom in Tibet controversy is a part of the greater Sinicization phenomenon and can be described as a political tool used to justify the Sinicization of Tibet.

There were three main social groups in Tibet prior to 1959, namely ordinary laypeople, lay nobility, and monks. The ordinary layperson could be further classified as a peasant farmer (shing-pa) or nomadic pastoralist (trokpa).

Tibet (1912–1951) Historical de facto independent region of Republic of China

The polity of Tibet between the collapse of the Qing Empire in 1912 and its incorporation into the People's Republic of China in 1951 was an autonomous protectorate of the Republic of China.

Polyandry in India

Polyandry in India refers to the practice of polyandry, whereby a woman has two or more husbands at the same time, either historically on the Indian subcontinent or currently in the country of India. An early example can be found in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, in which Draupadi, daughter of the king of Panchala, is married to five brothers.

Polygamy is legal in Bhutan regarding the consent of future wives. There is no legal recognition granted to polygamous spouses under civil law of Bhutan or customary law. Women in Bhutan may by custom be married to several husbands, however they are allowed only one legal husband. The legal status of married couples among polygamous and polyandrous households impacts the division of property upon divorce and survivorship, as well as general admissibility of the marital relationship in courts.

Polyandry in nature

In behavioral ecology, polyandry is a class of mating system where one female mates with several males in a breeding season. Polyandry is often compared to the polygyny system based on the cost and benefits incurred by members of each sex. Polygyny is where one male mates with several females in a breeding season . A common example of polyandrous mating can be found in the field cricket of the invertebrate order Orthoptera. Polyandrous behavior is also prominent in many other insect species, including the red flour beetle and the species of spider Stegodyphus lineatus. Polyandry also occurs in some primates such as marmosets, mammal groups, the marsupial genus' Antechinus and bandicoots, around 1% of all bird species, such as jacanas and dunnocks, insects such as honeybees, and fish such as pipefish.

Naked marriage or bare marriage refers to an increasingly prevalent form of marriage popular among people born after the 1980s in China. In a naked marriage, loving partners get united without solid material foundation. It typically bears the characteristics of "no house", "no car", "no ring", and "no ceremony", and is generally recognized as a frugal way of tying the knot under the enormous economic pressure China's younger generation is currently facing.

References

  1. Gielen, Uwe (1998). "Gender roles in traditional Tibetan cultures". In L.L Adler (Ed.), International Handbook on Gender Roles. Westport, CT: Greenwood.: 413–437.
  2. Childs (2003) p.429
  3. 1 2 3 4 Goldstein (1971) pp.65-66
  4. Goldstein, Melvyn C. (Nov 1981) New Perspectives on Tibetan Fertility and Population Decline American Ethnologist, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 721-738
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Childs (2003) pp.427-428
  6. 1 2 Goldstein (May 1971) p.524
  7. 潘东 (2011). "揭秘一妻多夫的西藏婚姻" (in Chinese). people.com.cn. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  8. Ma, Rong (2000). "试论藏族的"一妻多夫"婚姻" (PDF). 《民族学报》 (in Chinese) (6). Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  9. Zhu, Suli (2014). "藏区的一妻多夫制". 《法律与社会科学》. 13 (2): 15. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  10. Suozhen (2009). 西藏一妻多夫婚姻研究 (in Chinese). China University of Political Science and Law. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  11. Zhang, Kai (2012). "西藏一妻多夫婚姻习俗与国法的冲突和调适". 《西藏发展论坛》 (in Chinese) (6). Retrieved 31 July 2018.

General references