Polyandry (from πολὐς, many, and ἀνήρ, a man), that form of polygamy which permits a woman to have several husbands. SEE MARRIAGE. The hot - bed of polyandry is Thibet. There a wife commonly is the wife of a whole family of brothers, the elder brother being chief husband. In the Himalayan and sub-Himalayan regions adjoining and under the influence of Thibet it is of frequent occurrence, in the same form as in the valley of Cashmere, in Ladakh, among the Koech, and among the Telingese. Farther south in India we find polyandry among the Tudas of the Neilgherry Hills, the Coorgs of Mysore, and the Nayars of Malabar. We find it again off the Indian coast in Ceylon; and, going eastward, strike on it as an ancient though now almost superseded custom in New Zealand, and in one or two of the Pacific islands. Going northward, we meet it again in the Aleutian Islands; and taking the continent to the west and north of the Aleutians, it is found among the Koryaks, to the north of the Okhotsk Sea. Crossing the Russian empire to the west side, we meet it among the Saporogian Cossacks; and thus have traced it at points half round the globe. This is not all, however. It is found in several parts of Africa; and it occurs again in many parts of America among the Red, men. We have the authority of Humboldt for its prevalence among the tribes on the Orinoco, and in the same form as in Thibet. "Among the Avaroes and the Maypures," he says, "brothers have often but one wife." Humboldt also vouches for its former prevalence in Lancerota, one of the Canary Islands. Thus polyandry is a phenomenon of human life independent of race and country. See Latham, Descriptive Ethnology (1859), 1, 24, 28"; 2, 398, 406, 462; Humboldt, Personal Narrative (Williams's translation, 1819), vol. 5, pt. 2, p. 549; and vol. 1, chap. 1, p. 84; Hamilton, New Account of the East Indies (Edinb. 1727), 1, 274, 308; Reade, Savage Africa, p. 43; Erman, Travels in Siberia, 2, 531; Seignior Gaya, Marriage Ceremonies (translation) (2d ed. Lond. 1698), p. 70, 96; Emerson Tennant, Ceylon (3d ed. 1859), 2, 429; "Legend of Rullpe," Grey's Polynesian Mythology (1855), p. 81; A Summer Ramble in the Himalayas (1860), p. 202; Vigne, Kashmir, 1, 37; Journal Asiat. Soc. of Bengal, 9, 834; Asiat. Research. 5, 13.
From ancient history we learn that the area over which polyandry at one time existed was even more extended; while in certain cantons of Media, according to Strabo (2, 798; and see Goguet, vol. 3, bk. 6:c. 1), polygynia was authorized by express law, which ordained every inhabitant to maintain at least seven wives; in other cantons precisely the opposite rule prevailed-
a woman was allowed to have many husbands, and they looked with contempt on those who had less than five. Caesar informs us that in his time polyandry of the Thibetan type prevailed among the Britons (De Bello Gallico, lib. 5, c. 14). We find direct evidence of its existence among the Picts in the Irish Nennius (App. 51), not to mention the traces of it remaining in the Pictish laws of succession. Indeed, to pass over communities in which something like promiscuity of intercourse between the sexes is said to have prevailed such as the Massagetfe, Agathyrsi, and the ancient Spartans-we find several among which polyandry, or a modified promiscuity, must have been the rule. Assuming that the legal obligation laid on younger brothers in their turn to marry the wives of their deceased elder brother is a relic of polyandry of the Thibetan type, then we must hold that polyandry prevailed at one time throughout India (Institutes of Menu, ch. 3, § 173, and ch. 9. § 57, 58), among the ancient Hebrews (De 25:5-11); in Siam, Burmah, in Syria among the Ostiaks, the But (Bodo), the Kasia, and the Puharies of Gurhwal. Traces of it indeed remained in the time of Tacitus among the Germans (Tac. Germ. 20, Latham's edition, p. 67 sq.). In short, polyandry may be regarded as one of the transitional forms in the advance from a state of promiscuity, on the assumption that pure promiscuity ever existed. Of the origin of this peculiar institution our space forbids us to write; but we believe it to be connected with the want of balance between the numbers of the sexes, due to the practice of female infanticide, which is its almost invariable accompaniment. Tribes of warriors, wholly devoted to a military life, find women an encumbrance rather than a solace; and from this cause, and probably from the difficulties of subsistence, formed the practice of killing their female children, sparing them only when they were the first-born. The disparity of the sexes would lead to polyandry, and once instituted, the custom would in many cases continue to exist after the habits and necessities which produced it disappeared. In several places, as in Ladakh, where polyandry prevails, the sexes are now either equally balanced, or the female sex predominates. In these cases polygynia and polyandry are commonly found existing side by side. The subject is one which demands, and as yet has not received, full investigation. — Chambers, s.v. See also London Academy, Nov. 21, 1874, p. 557; Lubbock, Origin of Civilization (see Index); Blackwood's Magazine, January, 1875, p. 69 sq., 82 sq.