Sociology Index

POLYANDRY

Polyandry is a marriage structure where a woman has more than one husband at one time. Polyandry is Polygamy in which one woman has two or more husbands at the same time. Polyandry is rare, but when it is found there is often fraternal polyandry. The term polyandry is also used where a female animal has more than one male mate. Polyandrist practises or favours polyandry. The term polygamy covers both Polygyny and polyandry. Polyandry, the marriage of a woman to multiple husbands, is first recounted not in historical texts, but in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata.

The dynamics of polyandry: kinship, domesticity, and population on the Tibetan border.
Levine, N. E., University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA. Polyandry, the simultaneous marriage of two or more men to a single women, is cross-culturally rare and has been little studied. The book investigates polyandry as it is practised among the Nyinba, a culturally Tibetan group resident in northwestern Nepal.

It uses ethnographic data to explore polyandry's cultural and social parameters and the multiple factors that enter into individuals' decisions to remain in their polyandrous marriages, or, as rarely happens, to dissolve them. This leads to a critique of arguments that find a determinant materialist logic in polyandry and seek its causes in exogenous circumstances.

The Nyinba practise fraternal polyandry. Every man who has brothers marries polyandryously, and virtually all the brothers remain in intact, fraternally polyandrous marriages throughout their lives. The analysis encompasses a wide range of interactions in polyandrous household system, and, ultimately, between kinship, domestic economy, and population dynamics. Polyandry among the Nyinba affects interpersonal relationship in marriage and in family life.

Matriarchy, polyandry, and fertility amongst the Mosuos in China
Nan E. Johnsona and Kai-Ti Zhanga, Department of Sociology, Michigan State University
A survey of 232 households of the Mosuo minority group in Yunnan Province, People's Republic of China, suggested that polyandrous matriarchy did not raise the birth rate per household, but lowered the community birth rate by restricting many women's chances of marrying. Tolerance by the national government of polyandry within certain minority groups will not prevent but may aid the attainment of zero population growth by China in the twenty-first century.

Draupadi’s Husbands: A Brief Study of Polyandry in Contemporary Himalayan Cultures
The Paharis of India and the nearby Tibetan Nepali are two of the few peoples who practice fraternal polyandry, the marriage of multiple brothers to a single woman. Practitioners and proponents of polyandry offer several reasons for the continuation of this practice, polyandry’s economic benefits within the society, and the perpetuation of a polyandrous tradition established in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. No current explanation exists for polyandry’s continued practice among the Pahari and Tibetan Nepali.
In the Mahabharata, the princess Draupadi is married to the five Pandava brothers, and the Pahari of Himalayan India have continued this practice of fraternal polyandry through the centuries. Paharis are a separate culture of India characterized by several diversions from mainstream Hinduism, including the institution of polyandry, and a separate linguistic dialect. The unique qualities of polyandry and its universal rarity have encouraged continued anthropological investigation. Despite the variety of hypotheses, no conclusive evidence suggests that practice of polyandry is preferable to polygyny or monogamy.

The enhancement of biological fitness:
Polyandry does not empirically increase the biological fitness of offspring within amarriage. Although polyandrous marriages do ensure some variation of alleles within a familial population, the probability of transferal of alleles from father to children decreases with the number of husbands within a polyandrous marriage (Beall and Goldstein 1981).

The decrease in the number of offspring further decreases the chance of transferal of alleles to a further generation. Thus, polyandry “does not appear to enhance the fitness of individuals who practice it, and in fact, seems to entail substantial reproductive sacrifice” (Beall and Goldstein 1981:5).

The demographic inequality between men and women
Polyandry in societies where there is a surplus of men. In Jaunsar Bawar, a polyandrous Pahari community, there is an expectantly great shortage of women. Polyandry may be the cause and not the solution to a shortage of available wives.

The economic benefits in a system of familial partition
By far the most convincing explanation of polyandry lies in the standard division of familial property among both Pahari and Tibetan Nepali societies. In order to mitigate the partition of land, brothers are reunited under one household by marriage to a common wife. The sons of their polyandrous union are also expected to marry in polyandry, thus retaining the entirety of family land holdings through generations.