Polyandry van­ish­ing from Laya

Ear­lier, lack of enough pro­vi­sions for sur­vival com­pelled Layap women to marry mul­ti­ple part­ners but with mod­ern­iza­tion and in­come gen­er­a­tion from cordy­ceps col­lec­tion, women are set­tling for one hus­band

Business Bhutan - - Nation - Chen­cho Dema from Laya

The cus­tom of mar­ry­ing mul­ti­ple hus­bands, or polyandry, is well known in the pic­turesque val­ley of Laya in Gasa dzongkhag but today it is turn­ing a rare prac­tice.

Polyandry which was prac­ticed for sur­vival is slowly fac­ing a nat­u­ral death with just six women in Laya’s pop­u­la­tion of 1,000 in five chi­wogs mar­ried to sev­eral men each.

Once upon a time, daugh­ters of al­most every fam­ily in Laya, about 24km away from Gasa, would marry more than one man but the com­mu­nity af­ter em­brac­ing mod­ern­iza­tion and the huge in­come that comes with cordy­ceps col­lec­tion, is aban­don­ing the age-old tra­di­tion.

The prime rea­son for this, how­ever, is the le­gal­iza­tion of cordy­ceps col­lec­tion back in 2003, which changed the eco­nomic dy­nam­ics in the vil­lage. Though there are other sources of in­come for the Layaps, cordy­ceps re­main the main source of in­come for them.

In al­most all the cases, polyandry prac­ticed is fra­ter­nal where a group of broth­ers share a wife. Non­fra­ter­nal polyandry, where a group of un­re­lated men share a wife, is rare.

When Zam from Thon­gra chi­wog mar­ried her first hus­band she was 19. Af­ter two years, at the age of 22, she mar­ried her sec­ond hus­band. Be­tween them, they have three chil­dren.

Sur­rounded by her friends, Zam, now 49, smiles as her friends tease her about hav­ing two hus­bands. She says it was a love mar­riage and there was a be­lief that if a woman mar­ries more than one hus­band her fam­ily would pros­per.

“Though there are peo­ple who talk be­hind my back, it does not bother me. As far as we are happy, I do not care about what peo­ple say about me.”

Asked which of her hus­bands she loves more, she blushes.

“I love them both equally. Our se­cret of hap­pi­ness is I do not dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween my hus­bands. At one given time, one of my hus­bands will be with the yaks in the moun­tains while my other hus­band stays with me at home and helps with the house­chores.”

Tsh­er­ing Pego, 29, from Pazhi chi­wog but orig­i­nally from Lobja mar­ried her first hus­band, a 33-year old and later mar­ried his brother, a year younger to him. To­gether, they have three chil­dren.

Cheki Wangmo, 44, mar­ried to two broth­ers said her mar­riage was borne from love and they have three sons. “I have been mar­ried for the last 17 years and ev­ery­thing is go­ing well in our lives. I love both my hus­bands equally.”

About 4,000m above sea level and more than six hours’ walk from Pon­jothang till the near­est road point, arable land is in short sup­ply and farms are tiny. Vil­lagers have to walk down to Pu­nakha, a two-day jour­ney for ra­tions.

In Laya, polyandry works well when there is di­vi­sion of la­bor be­tween the hus­bands - one to look af­ter the yaks while the other helps the wife in the fields. The hus­bands take turns to be at home.

Lhaba, 32, from Lubcha chi­wog said that dur­ing the time of their fore­fa­thers, al­most every house­hold prac­ticed polyandry but today, with devel­op­ment and change in life­style, the trend is de­clin­ing. “With not enough food to feed the fam­ily, women mar­ried more hus­bands to pro­vide for the house­hold but now, women marry only one hus­band.”

Laya com­prises Tokor, Pazhi, Neylu, Tron­gra and Lung chi­wogs with the near­est road point reach­ing till Ko­hina but one can drive till Pon­jothang.

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