Polyandry is of two types:
(i) Fraternal Polyandry, and
(ii) Non-Fraternal Polyandry.
(i) Fraternal Polyandry:
When several brothers share the same wife, the practice can be called alelphic or fraternal polyandry. This practice of being mate, actual or potential, to one’s husband’s brothers is called “levirate.” It is prevalent among the Todas.
(ii) Non-Fraternal Polyandry:
In this type, the husbands need not have any close relationship prior to the marriage. The wife goes to spend some time with each husband. So long as a woman lives with one of her husbands, the others have no claim over her. Nair polyandry was of this type. Tibetans too have this type. Both these types of polyandry must be distinguished from “wife-sharing” or ‘ wife-lending’, which is much more common among the primitives. But in all cases it is temporary.
Causes of Polyandry:
No universal generalisations can be made with regards to the causes of polyandry. Still factors such as scarcity of women, the desire to keep the property intact, heavy bride price, poverty and the sterility of men, etc., are favourable to polyandry though not always.
The Todas of India used to practise female infanticide prior to the British influence. This led to a surplus of males and naturally to polyandry. For the same reason the Marquesan Islanders practise polyandry. Still, in Ladakh polyandry was practised even though women outnumbered men there.
Polyandry is often practised due to poverty and heavy bride price. Poor young men who are not capable of paying the bride price and maintaining the wife individually often marry a woman collectively. Still, in some instances, even the rich people practised polyandry.
Among the Toda, property considerations and sex-parity have also caused polyandry. The Tibetans practised polyandry in order to keep the joint property intact.
Social Implications of Polyandry:
Polyandry has its own implications. It gives rise to the problem of determining biological paternity of the child. But the primitives have their own social methods of determining the fatherhood of the child. Such kind of fatherhood is known as “sociological fatherhood”.
Among the Polyandrian Todas, one of the husbands goes through what is called a “bow-and- arrow” ceremony with the woman and thereby becomes the legal father of her child. He continues to be called the father of the children born to her till the other husband(s) goes through the same ceremony.
Among the Samoa, the children after the first few years are given the liberty to choose their parents for their permanent stay. The selected parent becomes the actual father of the children. If they feel that they are not treated properly they may move on to others.
Polyandry is said to be an adjustment with poverty. It tends to keep the birth-rate at a low level even by providing sexual satisfaction to all. Hence, it tends to have an adverse effect on the growth of population.
The practice of polyandry requires good understanding between the wife and the husbands on the one hand and among the husbands themselves. It may also lead to extra-marital and pre-marital sex relations. The polyandrous Khasa wife has to follow the norms of marriage. But her unmarried daughter can freely mix with visitors at home.
It is to be noted that polyandry is not the common practice even among the communities where it is permitted. On the contrary, monogamy is becoming popular everywhere. Polyandry is slowly disappearing.