Anth 481 - When Brothers Share a Wife

Anth 481 - When Brothers Share a Wife - Article 14 When...

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Article 14 . When Brothers Share a Wife Among Tibetans, the good life relegates many women to spinsterhood MelvynC. Goldstein Eager to reach home, Dorje drives his yaks hard over the 17,000-foot mountain pass, stopping only once to rest. He and his two older brothers, Perna and Sonam, are jointly marrying a woman from the next village in a few weeks, andhe has to help with the preparations. Dorje, Perna, and Sonam are Tibetans living in Limi, a 200-square-mile area in the northwest comer of Nepal, across the border from Tibet. The form of marriage they are about to enter-fraternal poly- andry in anthropological parlance-is one of the world's rarest forms of mar- riage but is not uncommon in Tibetan so- ciety, where it has been practiced from time immemorial. For many Tibetan so- cial strata, it traditionally represented the ideal form of marriage and family. The mechanics of fraternal polyandry are simple. Two, three, four, or more brothers jointly take a wife, who leaves her home to come and live with them. Traditionally, marriage was arranged by parents, with children, particularly fe- males, having little or no say. This is changing somewhat nowadays, but it is still unusual for children to marry with- out their parents' consent. Marriage cer- emonies vary by income and region and range from all the brothers sitting to- gether as grooms to only the eldest one formally doing so. The age of the broth- ers plays an important role in determin- ing this: very young brothers almost never participate in actual marriage cere- monies, although they typically join the marriage when they reach their mid- teens. The eldest brother is normally domi- nant in terms of authority, that is, in man- aging the household, but all the brothers share the work and participate as sexual partners. Tibetan males and females do not find the sexual aspect of sharing a spouse the least bit unusual, repulsive, or scandalous, and the norm is for the wife to treat all the brothers the same. Offspring are treated similarly. There is no attempt to link children biologically .to particular brothers, and a brother shows no favoritism toward his child even if he knows he is the real father be- cause, for example, his other brothers were away at the timethe wifebecame pregnant. The children, in turn, consider all of the brothers as their fathers and treat them equally, even if they also know who is their real father. In somere- gions children use the term "father" for the eldest brother and "father's brother" for the others, while in other areas they call all the brothers by one term, modify- ing this by the use of "elder" and "younger." Unlike our own society, where mo- nogamy is the onlyform of marriage per- mitted, Tibetan society allows a variety of marriage types, including monogamy, fraternal polyandry, and polygyny. Fra- ternal polyandry and monogamy are the most common forms of marriage, while polygyny typically occurs in cases where the first wife is barren. The widespread
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This note was uploaded on 09/07/2010 for the course POLISCI 481 taught by Professor Frank during the Spring '10 term at CSU Sacramento.

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Anth 481 - When Brothers Share a Wife - Article 14 When...

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