Ever heard of polyandry? Didn’t think so.

 

Oh, I had fun writing this one! The tongue-in-cheek title came all by itself, inspired by the delightfully cheesy old musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (If you haven’t seen that one yet, go out and rent it right now! A charming film.) It was delightful trying to figure out how my main character, Lhamu, would manage all seven of her husbands – and what a woman she turned out to be.

In writing this, I also discovered that seven husbands is really too much. Imagine all the sweaty undershirts; ugh. Anyway, let us hope Lhamu figured it out! (Knowing her, I’m pretty sure she did…)

(Sources are listed at the end. Click on any image to link to its source page.)

 

***

So everyone knows about polygamy (or polygyny) – Mormon fundamentalist sister-wives; wealthy sheikhs with harems of beautiful women. In many parts of the world, particularly Muslim-dominant nations, it is common to meet families with one man married to two or more wives. Not only is this still the case, but historically it’s common to hear of men with multiple wives (or, if they were only allowed one legal wife, at least multiple mistresses!)

Polyandry-in-Tibet
A polyandrous family in Tibet – one wife with two brothers.

However polygyny’s natural opposite – polyandry, where a woman shares multiple husbands – is rarely heard of. (Fun piece of news: recently a Chinese professor suggested that some poorer men share a single wife, in order to address the current gender imbalance in China… people were generally scandalized! Check out the full article here.) Amusingly, the idea this professor advocates is exactly the solution that was thought up by ancient Tibetans: fraternal polyandry.

Polyandry isn’t so unknown, but in the global scheme of things it’s culturally unusual. Some Inuit cultures traditionally had customs of “wife-sharing,” which could be considered a form of polyandry. Other cultures may have introduced it, formally or informally, to protect women when the “primary” husband was gone for an extended period of time. However, the Tibetans formalized it in a particularly strong way, and for good reason: the land.

tradhome bnw
A traditional Tibetan home. This was the photo that inspired by description of Lhamu’s farmhouse.

Tibet is mostly mountains, leaving very little farmable land. From my (brief, mostly surface-level, but still interesting!) research, it seems that – like their less enlightened European peers – land ownership in Tibet was passed down from fathers to sons, not daughters. And sure enough, they must have run into the same sticky problem: only so much land, and so many sons to share it with! In Europe they solved this problem by giving all to the eldest son, and saying “too bad” to the spares (or bundling them off to the military, the Church, or the New World); in Tibet they took a different tactic of having all the sons share the land. And, in addition, share a wife.

yak
The yak: an indispensable member of any Tibetan farm family. Yak milk is used to make yogurt, as well as for tea.

Inheritance is always a tricky business, but at least this way the land would remain in the family. One wife sharing multiple brothers also provides some form of birth control, since a single woman can only have so many babies – one every nine months of her fertile life, at the most – while men can just keep on irresponsibly producing hungry mouths to feed. Plus, as the wife was an equal partner to all of the brothers, family harmony and brotherly affection (such that is ever is!) could be maintained with relative naturalness.

mastiff
The famous Tibetan mastiff: another essential farm helper.

Of course I couldn’t let this fascinating cultural tidbit go! And naturally, I turned it into an erotica. (My apologies are already written to any purists of Tibetan culture: certainly I drew on it very lightly, and created the rest from my dirty imagination. However, it sure does tell a good story!)

drinking tea at wedding
Drinking milk tea together. I found this a delightful custom of Tibetan marriage ceremonies.
tibet wedding couple
A beautifully attired couple, dressed for a traditional Tibetan wedding. (Except for the sunglasses… a modern touch!)

In the process of writing A Bride for Seven Brothers, I came to understand some things:

  1. If fraternal polyandry is to work, that woman had better be tough as nails. She will have to take control of the household, and keep control. (My character, Lhamu, finds all kinds of sexy ways to impose her will on all seven husbands…)
  2. Seven husbands is really A LOT. Like, too many. I like a good gang bang as much as the next girl, but honestly, I would not appreciate having seven men around all the time. One is quite enough for the most part, thank you!
  3. There would be so many chores. Dishes; mending; making the beds; and oh my god, imagine all the dirty undershirts you would have to wash! (Lhamu has some strong opinions about that, too!)
  4. But in spite of all that, it might just be fun…

While I am not an expert on Tibet, nor have I ever visited, I hope my story still resonates. If it captures that land of mountains, of sparse farmland, snow and wind; if the saffron robes and rhythmic chants of Buddhist monks come to you, borne on the breeze; if you can imagine how a strong woman could make her polyandrous marriage work for her; then I will consider my story a success.7 brothers SMASH

***

Sources
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/02/when-taking-multiple-husbands-makes-sense/272726/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyandry_in_Tibet
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nebanthro/113/
http://www.kalachakra.org/articles/marriage.shtml
http://www.worldweddingtraditions.net/tibetan-wedding-traditions/
http://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/tibet/food-drink.htm
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3 thoughts on “Ever heard of polyandry? Didn’t think so.

  1. I’ve been looking forward to getting my ancients fix all week long, and this one definitely delivered. Fascinating, and the idea of polyandry has pollinated my mind with all kinds of naughty ideas. I can’t wait to read this one!

    Liked by 1 person

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