January 3, 2012

Polygamy and polyandry – what’s the difference?

How was your Christmas? We at Jones Myers hope that you fall firmly into the camp for whom the festive season re-invigorated your family union, amidst (admittedly temporary) relief from the pressures of the ‘daily grind’. The other camp – for whom the festive season IS a daily grind – will probably contribute in some measure to the commonly held perception that January is the peak month for the re-evaluation of relationships.

Faced with very modern pressures on a relationship, you might wish to reflect on couples, past and present, whose customs and rites may invite incredulity but are no less valid in their own society.

Even today, we know that some African and Asian cultures encourage polygamy, in which a man may take multiple wives. In such societies, this is generally considered a sign of wealth and power but, interestingly, most of the men still take only one wife. In contrast, polyandry – a woman having multiple husbands – was once popular with the Spartans around the 5th Century BC, but now occurs extremely rarely in just a few isolated tribal societies.

Perhaps easier to comprehend in the era of growing cohabitation, there are some societies which have managed without marriage altogether. The Na tribe of Yunnan province in Southern China – and the Mosuo ethnic minority – have long conducted their relations via “visits” initiated by either men or women. Their heritage is based on matrilineality, where descent is traced through maternal ancestors. This means that the men stay with their birth families and are responsible for supporting their sisters’ children. It’s not quite clear what fate befalls women with no brothers…

In certain remote parts of India there is a custom in which a groom wishing to enter into a second marriage is required to first marry with a plant called Tulsi (a member of the basil family), to overcome inauspicious predictions about the health of the husband – or if the bride’s astrology singles her out as a bad omen.

So, if the close confines of the festive holidays lead you to resent your partner’s little habits, consider what it would be like living in one of those remote Indian states where a union with ‘Basil’ awaits. Is the grass really greener on the other side?

We hope you enjoy the start of 2012. There may well be difficult times ahead and unpalatable decisions to be made. Finding the time for uninterrupted thought is worth doing; as is finding someone with whom you can talk – whether a relative, friend or professional. We all start the New Year with the best of intentions; perhaps 2012 is the year to keep the New Year’s Resolutions and view problems as challenges to be resolved