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POLYANDRY EXPLAINED — POLYGYNY — EXTENT-SIX HUSBANDS-THE
ABBÉ DESGODINS- TIBETAN AND SCOTCH IMMORALITY -TARTAR
I HAVE referred more than once in these articles to the polyandry of the people among whom I sojourned ; and though this delicate subject has been alluded to in several publications, it is sufficiently novel to the general reader to call for a little explanation here. Indeed, I find there are many well-educated persons who do not even know what polyandry means. It has a very botanical kind of sound ; and its German equivalent Vielmännerei, though coarse and expressive, does not throw much light upon the subject. A mistake also has been made in contrasting polyandry with polygamy; whereas, being the marriage of one woman with two or more men, it is itself a form of polygamy, and ought properly to be contrasted with polygyny, or the marriage of one man to two or more
Bụt the polyandry of Central Asia must further be limited to the marriage of one woman to
two or more brothers, for no other form is found there, so far as I could learn.
This curious and revolting custom exists all over the country of the Tibetan-speaking people; that is to say, from China to the dependencies of Kashmir and Afghanistan, with the exception of Sikkim, and some other of the provinces on the Indian side of the Himalaya, where, though the Tibetan language may in part prevail, yet the people are either Aryan in race, or have been much influenced by Aryan ideas. I found polyandry to exist commonly from Taranda, in the Sutlej valley, a few marches from Simla, up to Chinese Tibet, and from there to Súrú, where it disappeared in the polygyny of the Mohammedan Kashmiris. But it is well known to exist, and to be an almost universal custom, all through Chinese Tibet, Ladak, Little Tibet, and nearly all the Tibetan-speaking provinces. It is not confined to that region, however, and is probably the common marriage custom of at least thirty millions of respectable people. It is quite unnecessary to go deeply into the origin and working of this very peculiar marital arrangement; but it is well worthy of notice, as showing how purely artificial a character such arrangements may assume, and what desperate means are had recourse to, in order to get rid of the pressure caused by the acknowledged law of population.
In the most elaborate and valuable compilation there is on Lamaism— Die Lamaische Hierarchie und Kirche,' by Carl Friedrich Koeppen—that author, in his brief reference to this subject, clears the religion of Tibet of any responsibility for polyandry, and asserts that it existed in the country before the introduction of Búdhism, having arisen from the pressure of popula
tion.* In Ceylon, which is a great Búdhist country, polyandry also exists, and, at least till very lately, has been legally acknowledged by the British Government; but I have not found anything which proves that the religion of the Singalese is any more responsible for the custom than is the British Government itself. We know also that polyandry has existed in non-Búdhistic countries, and even in Great Britain, along with worse marriage customs, as Cæsar testifies in his 'De Bello Gallico' (lib. v. xiv.), when he says : “Uxores habent deni duodenique inter se communes, et maxime, fratres cum fratribus, et parentes cum liberis.” Traces are to be found of it among the ancient Indo-Aryans, as in the Mahabárat, where Dranpadi is represented as married to the five sons of Pandu ; and in the Rámáyana, where the giant Viradha attacks the two divine brothers Rámá and Lakshaman, and their wife Sita, saying, “Why do you two devotees remain with one woman? Why do you, O profligate wretches, thus corrupting the devout sages ?” Even so early as in the Rig Veda Sanhita (Mandala I. Hymn 117, v. 5) there is some trace of the custom in the passage, “Aswins, your admirable (horses) bore the car which you had harnessed (first) to the goal, for the sake of honour ; and the damsel who was the prize came through affection to you and acknowledged your husbandship, saying, 'you are (my) lords.'” I think
* “Die Schuld dieser widrigen und unnatürlichen Einrichtung trägt übrigens keinesweges der Lamaismus ; der Gebrauch bestand vielmehr bei den Bodpa längst vor ihrer Bekanntschaft mit der Religion des Shâkjasohnes und findet seine Erklärung und Entschuldigung in der übergrossen Arniuth des Schneelandes und in der aus dieser entspringenden Nothwendigkeit, dem Anwachsen der Bevölkerung Schranken zu setzen."
polyandry of a kind is even sanctioned in the laws of Menu.
There are many other traces of the existence of polyandry in the ancient world, and it also
in various countries in our own or in very recent times. As to the Singalese, Sir Emerson Tennent says that " polyandry prevails throughout the interior of Ceylon, chiefly amongst the wealthier classes.
As a general rule, the husbands are members of the same family, and most frequently brothers.” Here there is a slight difference from the polyandry where the husbands are always brothers. The Abbé Desgodins speaks of proches parents, or near relatives in general, being joined in this relationship, as well as brothers, in the east of the country ; but I repeatedly inquired into that point, and on consulting Herr Jaeschke at Herrnhut in regard to it, he said he had never known or heard of any other kind of polyandry in Tibet except fraternal. Polyandry notably exists among the Todas of Southern India, and it has been found in regions very far distant from each other, as among the Kalmucks, the Tasmanians, and the Iroquois of North America ; but nowhere does it take such a singular form as among the Nairs of the Malabar coast, who are nominally married to girls of their own caste, but never have any intercourse with their wives; while these latter may have many lovers if they please, if the lovers are Brahmins, or Nairs other than the husband.
Such arrangements, however, are mere freaks, and are not to be compared with the regular, extensive, and solidified system of Tibetan polyandry. General Cunningham, in his valuable work on Ladak, says that the system "prevails, of course, only among the
poorer classes ;” but my experience was that it prevailed among all classes, and was superseded by polygyny only where the people were a good deal in contact with either Hindús or Mohammedans. Turner, who had so much opportunity of seeing Western Tibet, is quite clear on this point as regards that part of the country, for he says (p. 349)—"The number of husbands is not, as far as I could learn, defined or restricted within any limits. It sometimes happens that in a small family there is but one male ; and the number may seldom perhaps exceed that which a native of rank, during my residence at Teshoo Loomboo, pointed out to me in a family resident in the neighbourhood, in which five brothers were then living together very happily with one female, under the same connubial compact. Nor is this sort of compact confined to the lower ranks of people alone; it is found also frequently in the most opulent families.”
I met only one case in which the number of husbands exceeded that of the instance mentioned above. It was that of the family of the múkea at Pú, in which six brothers were married to one wife, but the youngest of the brothers was quite a boy. The husband I saw must have been over thirty ; and as he had two elder brothers, the arrangement, as a whole, struck one as even more revolting than usual. Instances of three and five husbands were not uncommon; but, without having gone rigidly into the matter, I should say that the most instances of polyandry were those of two husbands, and that, not because there was any objection to five or six, but simply because no greater number of brothers was usually to be found in a family, as