High in the Himalayas, brothers share one wife
By Frankie Taggart, AFP
October 1, 2012, 12:12 am TWN
UPPER DOLPA, Nepal -- When Tashi Sangmo was 17 she married a 14-year-old neighbor in a remote Himalayan village in Nepal and, as part of the package, she also agreed to wed his younger brother.
In ancient times, the sons of almost every family in the region of Upper Dolpa would jointly marry one woman but the practice of polyandry is dying out as the region begins to open up to modern life.
“Things are easier this way because everything we have stays in one family. It doesn't get divided among many wives and it is me in charge,” said Sangmo, who uses a dialect of Tibetan and was speaking through an interpreter.
“Two brothers bring in the money and it's me who decides what to do with it.”
When Sangmo wed Mingmar Lama 14 years ago, it was understood that her spouse's brother Pasang — then 11 — would later join the relationship in a centuries-old practice that only persists in a few isolated Himalayan villages.
Between them, they now have three sons aged 8, 6 and 4.
“I wanted to share this bond with my brother because life would be easier for both of us,” said Pasang, 25, speaking at the family home in Simen village, 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level and five days' walk from the nearest town.
Traditionally part of the caravans that plied the route between Nepal and Tibet, the people of Upper Dolpa still follow the trade, leading yaks that bring salt from Tibet and rice from the southern Terai plains.
In the thin air high above the tree line, arable land is in short supply and farms are tiny.
But polyandry prevents the practice of each generation of a family dividing their holdings, and food supplies just manage to cover the locals' basic needs.
Marriages are typically arranged, with a family picking a wife for their oldest son and giving the younger brothers the chance to wed her later.
In some cases the wives will even help raise their future husbands, entering into sexual relationships with them when they are considered mature enough.
'There is no jealousy'
Unlike most men in conservative, predominantly Hindu Nepal, husbands in polyandrous marriages handle domestic duties, helping with cooking and childcare, while women are in charge of the money.
Polyandry also works as a form of birth control as a woman can only get pregnant so many times, regardless of how many husbands she has.
The polyandrous household doesn't usually acknowledge which husband is the biological parent, with the children calling father and uncles “dad.”