Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
This is a collection of readings from various sources. Each article throws some light on alternative social systems. They intrigue because they are different from models known to me all my life. But I have no obstinate allegiance to any particular social code, and it is easy to accept that other people have adopted other life models. The important conclusion is that ALL these life models have worked for the groups that live those.
I have great respect for each of these alternate models, and I do not subscribe to the view that they are what missionaries called ‘barbaric’ models.
Discovering such alternate models through the writings and first hand experiences of others, has been a mind opening experience for me. It teaches me the true meaning of the word ‘paradigm’.
Heinrich Harrer provides a real life account of his life in Tibet during his escape during World War II.
He talks about how he was astonished by the life of the nomads outside Sangsang:
“We soon ran into a nomad’s tent where we were well received …This time our hostess was a young woman. She quickly made us cups of butter tea….Over her bare skin she wore a sheepskin cloak reaching down to the ground. In her long black pigtail she wore mussel-shells, silver coins and various cheap ornaments from abroad. She told us that her two husbands had gone out to drive in the animals. …We were astonished to find polyandry practised among nomads. It was only when we were in Lhasa that we came to know all the complicated reasons which led to the simulataneous existence in Tibet of polyandry and polygamy”
A woman may marry several brothers and a man may marry several sisters.
The reason for this custom, is to avoid the partitioning and fragmentation of ancestral estate.
Even though it is now illegal by Chinese law, polyandry may still be found in rural Tibet.
Victor Paul writes about his own experience in Khampa – eastern Tibet.
“Our host Shureb had just warned us to be careful and alert that night, for the man who had been hovering around us all afternoon—a distant relative with a goofy face and a shifty gait—had been boasting around the encampment that he would sneak into our tent in the dark. But what exactly did he want? Did he intend to steal my things? Or did he want to rape Tashhedekyid, my interpreter?
Both were common incidents in the Khampa grasslands: theft from neighbors and friends and even distant family members was common, and so was the cornering of single girls for sex.
The latter was perhaps accepted as a cultural norm—after all, in Khampa customs, a visiting male relative has to sleep with the wife of his host—and I had heard Khampa girls saying they enjoyed the semi-forced sexual encounters, if you could call them ‘forced,’ for the girls did not seem to resist. And Tashedekyid was a Khampa herself, hailing from a nomads’ family.”
Christopher Baumer & Therese Weber write :
“In the rare case of polyandry, when one woman marries more than one brother at the same time, she remains the spouse of the eldest brother with the children regardless of paternity. Polyandry occured mainly out of economic necssity and was more common in central Tibet among farmers.
In a matrilocal wedding, a woman can have more than one husband and if she wants she can pay off her first husband and send him away.
Drokpas (animal herders) grow up freely, without the formation of gender specific tabbos as known by farmers and city dwellers. For example, an illegitimate child is not an embarassment for either the mother or the family. In contrast, it proves the young woman’s fertility.
Infertility is a defect however. It gives the husband the right to marry another woman and live polygamously.”
Another example of alternate sexual morality of Amdo drokpas “is the so called diving bride marriage. A woman enters such a marriage when she either wants to stay in her family or does not find a man. The woman is married to heaven by a Bonpo or a lama thereby gaining the status of a married woman. She then has the right to have children with whomever she chooses. Her children are called children granted by heaven or children conceived by heaven”
Interesting isn’t it?
The first of the series – Alternate Sexuality Traditions -1 The Khmers is available here .