Marriage and Fraternal Polyandry

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  • Topic: Marriage, Polyandry, Husband
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Polyandry from Greek meaning “many men” (Bornouw 104) is a form of marriage in which one woman lives with two or more husbands (Ember 344)(Beals 391). This type is quite rare and is practiced under specific conditions. It is found sporadically throughout the world, but it is not common in South Asia (Baldimore 370).

Polyandry, the custom of a woman having several husbands, is far less common. One reason is the man’s life expectancy is shorter and male infant mortality is high, so a surplus of men in a society is unlikely. Another reason is that it limits a man’s descendant more than any other pattern (Holt 396). It is often associated with population imbalance, produced in some places by female infanticide (Keesing 284). A polyandric woman may marry two or more men (Beals 391) who are brothers or who are not related. In a good many society two or more men may share sexual access to one woman (Keesing 284).

In practicing a polyandry type of marriage it may be two types: Fraternal polyandry and non-fraternal polyandry (Bornouw 104).
Fraternal polyandry, which dictates that when a woman marries a man she becomes a theory at least, the wife of all his brothers, both the living and those as yet unborn. Frequently such marriage occurred in fact as well as in theory, and a set of brothers (or clan brothers) with but one wife lives together in a single hut (Beals 284).

Fraternal polyandry explains it in terms of land inheritance. If two or more brothers share their land and share a wife there is no need for division of property and land fragmentation, such as plagued India, where holding become progressively smaller whenever sons divided land inherit from their father. One function of the system has been to preserve landholding intact from one generation to the next (Bornouw 105).

Occasionally polyandry was non-fraternal (the men belonging to different clans) when this lived in different villages, the wife customarily spent about one month with each in return. The men performed the ceremony of “giving the bow” in turn, so that the first was father to the first two or three children and the others, in sequence, father to the rest. Because this arrangement frequently led too much dispute and bickering (Beals 393).

Polyandry has been practiced by many peoples in all parts of the world since ancient times. At present, however, polyandry is prohibited by law in most countries. The following places showed why polyandry comes into practiced:

Most of the world most polyandrous people live in South Asia- Tibet, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka.
India’s polyandrous group inhabits the lower ranges of the Himalayas in Northern India. They are known as Paharis, which mean “people of the mountain”. The western Paharis practiced polyandry which was always a fraternal one because there was a shortage of female

(789 per 100 males). Although female infanticide was not documented in the area, neglect of girls (covert female infanticide) helped explain the shortage of woman. In some part of Himalayas, the practiced of sending girls to Buddhist nunneries also contributes to a shortage of marriageable women. Another place in Northern India practicing polyandry was in Jaunsar Bawar in the state of Uttar Pradesh. These two places on India practiced fraternal polyandry and they followed the rule that the oldest brother has a definite priority over the others. It is he goes through the marriage ceremony; his brothers then automatically become co husbands. But whenever the oldest brother is in the house, the younger ones may not have intercourse with the wife (Saksena 20). When the wife will give the birth, all the brothers are called the “father” by their children; they are not distinguished by separate kinship terms, despite the priority of the oldest brother (Bornouw 105).

On the other part of India (Baldimore 370), a typical example is found among Todas, a people of Southern India which the ideal pattern of marriage was...
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