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Talyana Tobert

Polyandry in Nepal or why Nepalese children have many fathers

Polyandry in Nepal or why Nepalese children have many fathers
23.02.2016
Categories: Asia

Princess Draupadi prayed to Lord Shiva to send her a husband. And she prayed not once, but five times. So he sent her five husbands at the same time.

This story from the ancient Indian epic "Mahabharata" is probably the first written mention of polyandry – a form of marriage when a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time. 28 centuries after the "Mahabharata", this form of marriage is still practiced in the Himalayan villages of Tibet, India and Nepal.

Polygamy is officially banned in Nepal since 1963, but people in Humla, Dolpa and Kosi regions care about their traditions much more than they do about the law. Here one can find entire villages of polyandrous families. This form of marriage is also common among tribes in the north and north-east of Nepal, such as Bhote, Sherpa, Newbie, and other.

Usually two, three or more brothers marry one woman, and they all live under one roof. In the village of Dingle, I once met a family of three men and two women. It turned out that at first brothers married one woman, but she turned out to be barren. So they took another wife, her sister, and the first one stayed in the family.

Two generations of polyandry family. A young girl in the center is a 15 years old Teribal. She holds her youngest husband who is only 5. On the left from her is her eldest husband and her middle husband is right behind her. Two older men and a woman are Teribal's mother and fathers.

Locals seem happy with this kind of marriage, especially women. One husband usually works the fields, another one weaves baskets and carpets, and the third one earns money in the city. The family budget is flourishing!

No wonder that in such families women have unlimited authority, and in polyandrous villages most of elders councils consists of respected old women.

Men consider all children born in a marriage their own. In fact, the word “father” in Nepali language refers not to one man, but all husbands of the family. If one asks to specify and gets "eighth" in reply, it means that the person is talking about eighths husband in the family.

Intimacy is ruled by a simple tradition. The husband who enters wife’s bedroom leaves his shoes outside, signaling to all other that the marital bed is occupied.

A woman named Jamtan is photographed with her father Padma Ngutrub, first husband Nubbu, second husband Tagpa and their children.

Ethnographers agree that polyandry has arisen for the purpose of birth control, since living conditions in the mountains are harsh, especially during winters. Polyandrous unions produce much less children then monogamous marriages. Also, such families enjoy higher income, since they have not one but more men who can work. Running a large household is also more sustainable. After all, if every man had a separate wife, his parents would have to split their land and cattle among all their sons. So, each would end up with a tiny plot, that is not even profitable to work on.

To meet polyandrous families in Nepal book a place in our "Wild Nepal: Trip to the sacred Salpa Lake".