Polyandry: One Woman with Multiple Husbands
Many believe that they have heard all there is to marriage with little realization that the scope of institutional bonding between two or more people goes beyond having just one or more wives. Among the many forms of marriage, polyandry, one woman being married to two or more men at the same time, is a legitimate form of bonding within contemporary cultures.
Though currently extremely rare, found within one half of one percent of today's societies, polyandry was once widely practiced throughout the globe. Accounts of multiple husbands for a single woman have been found in literature dating as far back as 2,300 BCE in Sumerian society. Empires over time with their laws enforcing a universal form of marriage has caused the practice to dwindle down and can now only be found in the mostly isolated of regions, such as the Himalayas and the Pacific Islands.
Before the modern era, which has been highly influenced by globalization, polyandry had been occurring in various regions of the world. It has been accounted for in Polynesian societies, Tibet, Eastern Africa, Bhutan, Nepal, Canadian Arctic, Southern India, Ladakh in northern India, mountainous regions of China, and within some Amazonian tribes. Even written statements quoting Julius Cesar included observations of ancient British women taking two or more husbands at once.
Religious views of polyandry have varied throughout the ages. Both Hebrew and Islamic sacred texts condemn the practice, paralleling it with adultery while at the same time permitting polygyny (one man with multiple wives). Hindu texts take a different approach with multiple mentions of polyandry in the epic poem, the Mahabharata in which Draupadi marries five Pandava brothers. This sacred Hindu text implies a rather casual attitude about a marriage with one woman and multiple husbands compared to the Indian society that created it.
While the cultures that use polyandry differ in many spectrums, they share the practical need for this marriage system. Most often, those that practice polyandry do so in the form of fraternal polyandry, in which brothers marry the same woman. One woman with multiple husbands occur in communities where arable land is small and very scarce and hence what is available is needed to stay in the family. This can be problematic if each son goes off to start his own family in which case dividing the family plot would leave too little for each to sustain himself. If all brothers marry the same woman, the farms are kept in the family without leaving any individual to fend for himself. Polyandry is also used as a natural form of birth control. No matter how many husbands a woman may have, she can only get pregnant so many times. As far as the children that are produced within a polyandrous society, which man fathered which child is of very little concern. Since all the husbands are related, they are all seen as father figures coming from the same blood; hence all offspring are each and every husband's children.
Despite is practicality in many of the world's more isolated societies; polyandry is a gradually dying form of marriage. Globalization has brought notions of family planning, anit- polyandrous religions and visions of romance between just two people. Today, the few societies in which polyandry is still alive include those in Tibet, Ladakh region of India, The Zo'e' in the Amazon, and the Masai in Kenya.