I learned yesterday that in parts of Tibet the natives practice polyandry. The friend from whom I learned this told me that this practice is pretty much restricted to the high elevations where people subsist on animal husbandry. Typically, multiple brothers have the same wife, and several brothers will be away for days with flocks leaving one brother home with their wife.
Chinese herder with Sheep
I immediately began thinking of ways that things could go wrong with this arrangement. The advantages were that the wife would not spend nights alone. With several husbands she should be provided for. At least one of the husbands might be a considerate lover. For the men there was no need to worry about a straying wife, unless you consider that she would always be straying with a brother.
No one would know whose child any child was. With a closely related gene pool looking like brother number two would not necessarily mean that child was his. Brother number two might look like an uncle and another brother might actually be transmitting those genes.
I wonder how children are introduced. Maybe it is as, “This is our daughter, (name).”
I didn’t ask about marital problems. I imagine that the wife has to be careful about comparing one husband with another. It’s likely that the society is so different that they have problems I can’t imagine.
“But, you always like your yak medium rare.” “No, that’s husband number three, I like mine medium.”
Tibet is a country that I’ve never thought much about. I know that it is high, cold, barren, and claimed by China as a territory. I’ve never really thought about the people and how they live. What I learned from my friend who spent time there is that the people have no words for engineering concepts because they don’t have the concepts. My engineer friend would explain things to his Chinese interpreter, and then she would explain them to the Tibetans. Because they had no concept of a pulley the conversation – according to the interpreter – went something like, “You put a rope over this wheel and then wrap it around another wheel, and then you hang it from something high (no trees) and when you pull on the rope magic happens and it is much easier to lift. It wasn’t exactly that, but that is the gist.
When I started reading about Tibetan herders I found headlines like:
Snow Kills Tibetan Herds
Thousands of yaks die, causing hardship for nomad families.
Some families lost their entire herd. They struggled to find ways to transport some of the frozen yaks to local villages to sell meat for less than half of what it would otherwise sell for, but the snow blocked roads, and transportation was very expensive.
“Local people believe that the heavy snow, like the Kyegudo earthquake in 2010, is a natural disaster provoked by Chinese activities in the region—for example, mining gold along the Yangtze river, destroying holy mountains to build roads, and changing the direction of rivers to build giant dams,” said a man speaking on condition of anonymity. Magic is afoot again.
This is just one of the hardships associated with being a Tibetan nomad. In some areas, Tibetan herdsmen clash with Chinese herders resulting in relocation of Tibetans by the Chinese government.
One nomad herder (Chinese) described losing six of his forty sheep in two years to wolves. All he had to defend his herd was a stout stick. However, it made no difference. He said that you never hear them. The wolf pack comes in the night and you don’t know they are there until the sheep starts crying. “By then it’s too late.”
A Tibetan described a wild yak coming into his herd. It didn’t take well to being herded.
Finding adequate graze is just one challenge. In some areas all that grows are orchids. “ORCHIDS?!”, I exclaimed. I had in mind the kind of orchids that grow in trees in Hawaii. These are terrestrial orchids and they are well adapted to growing in the Himalayas.
The ground is too frozen to dig graves. The dead are laid out for vultures. Orchids and vultures and polyandry; the differences are too many to relate.
This takes place, fictionally, in Nepal, but it is still far away and misty.