Which Countries Practice Polyandry?

Polyandry, the marriage of one woman to two or more men, is still practiced in parts of India, Nepal, and Africa. In history, the practice occurred in Tibet, China, Bhutan and other parts of the world.

Polyandry was common in areas of the world where resources such as land and food were scarce, but women were allowed to own property. It was at one time practiced in Tibet, but Chinese occupation outlawed the practice, though it still occurs in the Yunnan and Sichuan regions of China. It is still practiced in parts of Africa such as Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria, as well as parts of South America and India.

Generally, where the practice was followed, a man who desired to marry a woman met with the woman’s parents. If they came to an agreement, the man married the woman. If a second man also desired to marry the woman, he spoke with the woman’s parents, and unless the first husband presented a dowry large enough to create a monogamous relationship, the second man also married the woman. The family then all lived in the same home.

The vast majority of polyandrous marriages involved a woman who married two or more brothers. Known as fraternal polyandry, this process was considered more stable than nonfraternal polyandry, the marriage of one woman to several non-related men. Two or more related men were more likely to care for all of the children of the relationship than men who had no familial ties to each other.