Sχaskari polyandry

20.7.10 § 2 commentarii

And now for something completely different:

Sχáskari Polyandry

The Sχáskari are unique among the peoples of Shurì for having historically practiced a form of polyandry. The prototypical form of marriage consisted of a single woman being married to two men. Even more unusually, as well as both being married to the same woman, the two men would also be married to each other. Such a practice is wholly unattested both for unrelated but neighbouring peoples, as well as for groups speaking genetically related languages.

Both Terrestrial and Shurin anthropologists have long found this aspect of Sχáskari culture fascinating, and a number of differing explanations have been proffered for it; these range from explanations based in the people's mythology to simple economic reasoning. It is not unlikely that aspects of all of these explanations are correct, but none of them offer complete satisfaction. The purpose of this short presentation therefore is to plot a via media between the varying viewpoints, and to situate Sχáskari polyandry within an appropriate historical context.

Historical background

We have decent enough evidence that their ancestors, the Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran tribes living around the eastern foothills of the Kharond Mountains, possessed a matrifocal society. This is not to say that political power was weilded by women, rather that descent and kinship were reckoned through the maternal line. Relics of this matrilinearity are still evident in certain aspects of the Kalpo-Lacaran descendant cultures. For example, since time immemorial speakers of Tailanca, a Lacaran language, have used matronymic surnames: the children of a woman named Radine have the surname Radinēsa. It is not unlikely that the historical polyandry of the Sχáskari developed within a similar context. Early Sχáskari society was undoubtedly matrilocal, with the husbands coming to live with the wife (stákaṡ, the verb used to indicate marriage from a woman's point of view etymologically means "take into one's house"), and wealth being concentrated in the maternal line. However, unlike the case in many polygynous cultures, it does not appear that having multiple husbands was a status-symbol in any way.

Essentially, the Sχáskari form of polyandry can be seen as the result of two discrete historical trends. As I say above, Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran society was matrilineal, with both descent and wealth passing down the female line. During this period, marriage relationships were probably much less concerned with "sexual fidelity": a woman could have sex with whoever she chooses, with marriage being a mere formality, if actually practiced at all. It is perhaps relevant that súθan, the Sχáskari cognate of Tailanca sunu "son in law", actually means "lover": the semantic development appears to have been "man having sex with my daughter" → "son-in-law" in Tailanca, but → "male sexual partner in general" in Sχáskari.

Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran speaking community fractured approximately three and a half millenia ago, with the Proto-Lacaran peoples leaving the Kherond Mountains and moving south-east into the Acaunic Plain. Those who remained behind buggered along much as they always had done until around two and a half millenia ago, when the Kherond was overrun by a crop of barbarians, who forced the Proto-Kalpan speakers north, to the rocky and inhospitable land around the Kalpan Gulf.

It is thought that monogamy became the primary form of marriage at this time: certainly, aside from the Sχáskari all the other Kalpan peoples practice monogamous marriages between one man and one woman. The reasons prompting this "tightening up" of the previous free-wheeling, women are sexually liberated norms, are difficult to pinpoint exactly: some have theorised that the inhospitable terrain around the Kalpan Gulf fostered the creation of tighter social bonds at the expense of more casual encounters. Women needed a permanent man on standby to help raise her children. Given a complex and rather specific set of incest taboos, where the communities were particularly small it would not take long for socially unacceptable degrees of consanguinity to develop. As such, exogamous marriages were preferred. Given that land was in the possession of the women, matrilocality was the norm, with the husband coming to live with his wife. Therefore a woman could not count on her brothers to help raise her children as had previously been the case: a man couldn't simply live in his mother's house and just visit his wife in the evenings, because his mother's house could well be on the other side of the mountain to his wife's. A corollary of this having to "import" masculine labour was the emergence of a tradition whereby unmarried daughters do not inherit: why leave land to someone who has nobody to farm it?

This situation of monogamous matrilocal marriages, with the exclusion of unwed daughters from the inheritance of land, probably held true for a good long time, and still remains the case in the other Kalpan societies. The crucial development in Sχáskari civilisation was the adoption of pastoralism alongside agriculture from their neighbours, the Ryghak. Essentially, the women and the married men would tend the fields while the unmarried men would bugger off in groups to the highland pastures and keep an eye on the cattle. As any group of bored young men will do when away from the supervision of their elders, Sχáskari youths caused trouble, raided cattle and developed intricate in-group bonding practices, the form of which was also borrowed from the Ryghak. The classical Ryghak warband was not unlike the Terrestrial Männerbunde known from Indo-European culture, particularly the ancient Indo-Aryans and Germans. These societies demanded initiation rituals, Rangdemonstration and what is known in a debased form to modern Western culture as "team-building". It was in this context that the Sχáskari practice of żasálgut, the forming of strong male-male pair bonds developed: essentially the ritualised kidnapping and "forest training" of a younger youth by an elder ultimately derived from initiation rituals.

A natural consequence of this strong pair-bonding was that the two young men were perceived as a single unit, which could not be dissolved by the marriage of one żasálan without the other. Most likely the earliest such marriages were between a pair of bonded men and a pair of sisters, but this eventually evolved into the classical structure described below. It is also not unlikely that the natural population controls offered by this social practice helped confirm this practice.

Ultimately, Sχáskari polyandry is simply the overlay of an unusual culture-specific "blood brotherhood" on top of a matrilinear monogamous system, which is itself the result of the particular geography of the Kalpan Gulf.

The mythic prototype

Sχáskari mythology is replete with stories of how two brothers, frequently twins, would woo and marry a woman between them. The prototype of such stories is the myth of Márnin and Márnum, the gods of the two moons and their sister Karní, the sun goddess. The story goes that Márnum, the elder twin, saw Karní bathing at dawn one day and was instantly smitten. he went to Karní's mother, Żáldi, and begged her to let him marry her daughter. In order to prove his worthiness, Żáldi sets Márnum a series of herculean tasks. He attempts each in turn and fails miserably. He begs Żáldi for a second chance, and this time around he enlists his cunning little brother Márnin to help. This time around, all the tasks are completed successfully and Márnum triumphantly returns to Żáldi to claim his bride. However, Żáldi points out that as Márnin helped his brother to complete all the tasks, he had as much right to marry Karní as Márnum. So the two brothers decided to both marry Karní (the myths are unclear on whether Karní's opinion was sought on this) and the three subsequently lived happily ever after, having many children.

Typically, then, a marriage would be contracted between two men acting as a pair and a single woman, as suggested by the myth. However, where this mythic prototype breaks down as a model for historical practice is that the two men were most frequently not brothers genetically, and they generally did not pair up solely in order to get married. Rather, the association between the two men would generally pre-date their marriage to the woman by a significant amount of time. Before considering the wife's part in the marriage, we should first look at the association between the two husbands.


That the Sχáskari considered husbands to naturally come in pairs is reflected in their lexicon: the term for husband is dávit, which is historically a singulative form of the Proto-Kalpan *danū "two men". These pairs would normally be formed in early adolescence, some time after a boy's dangút manhood ceremony, which in prehistoric times would mark the boy's adoption into a warband at around the age of thirteen. The formation of these bonds normally took the form of a ritualised abduction: one of the senior unattached adolescents, generally about sixteen or seventeen years old, would choose a younger boy that he particularly admired. He would go to the boy's friends and tell them of his intention to abduct the boy: if they did't think that it to be a good match they would hide the target boy. If, however, they thought it to be a good match, they'd allow the boy to be captured. The adolescent would take his target into the forest, where they would hunt boars, feast and generally drink too much beer. After a lunar month had passed, they would return to the village and the boy would be given arms by his abductor. The boy then offered a feast for his friends and declared whether he would consent to become the żasálan or sworn brother of his abductor. If he did, the friends would present the pair with a goblet full of beer: the pair would cut their right forearms, allow the blood to mix with the beer and then drink it together (etymologically, żasálan derives from Proto-Kalpan *ĵes-élnu "man to drink with").

Thereafter, the pair were considered to be an indivisible unit, having promised to share sva tain aχtá sva sain one fire and one bread. They would generally live together in the elder one's mother's house. The oath which bound together the two żasálni took precedence over all others, including any vows of marriage. Therefore, any marriage would have to include both men: it is pertinent here that monogamous marriages only took place between women and a man who didn't have a żasálan. In effect, a woman did not marry two men, but one "unit of men".

It is unclear to what degree the relationships between the two żasálni were of a sexual nature. Contemporary sources from literate cultures certainly indicate that outsiders thought they were: one Tailanca text makes the bald declaration that hascari dārut radya cecoi cāthmashar the Sχáskari men all fuck each other. However, in modern żasálan relationships, although differing in detail from the classical picture presented above, it is as likely for relationships between the two men to be entirely platonic without as they are to be physical.

When Tailanca-speaking missionaries first reached the Sχáskari some four centuries ago, bringing with them literacy, organised religion and the other civilised arts, they were scandalised both by the "homosexual" relationships and by the practice of taking multiple husbands. In the first couple of centuries after the conversion of the Sχáskari to Athaulism, stringent efforts were made to eradicate both practices, with only limited success. The practice of żasálgut, or male sworn brotherhood, has remained strong: the Athaulist clergy has only succeeded in limiting marriages between one man and one woman. In urban areas, it is not uncommon to find a pair of żasálni who have separate wives all living together in one house. In rural areas, where traditional habits have been difficult to stamp out, it is still common for only one żasálan to be "officially" married (generally the elder male of the partnership), with the other żasálan remaining unwed and either living with the married couple or nearby.

The surplus women

In pre-Athaulist Sχáskari society, there was a strong tradition of female religious functionaries. While not priests as such, these ṡrásani, which we'll translate as nuns, were held in extremely high regard. In earliest times, like a male priest, your average nun was a mendicant: they would go from settlement to settlement, travelling in small groups for safety, begging for alms and distributing what passed for "spiritual wisdom". It was generally expected that an unmarried girl would join one of these groups: it was considered a great honour for the family. However, with the rise in frequency of żasálgut, a surplus of unmarried girls naturally developed. The Sχáskari economy was not particularly able to support a large class of non-productive religious functionaries. This lead to the creation of ṡrástari nunneries: largely self-sufficient estates, ran and worked by the women who inhabited them.

These were generally in isolated places in the countryside, or on small isolated islands in the Kalpan Gulf. The isolation of these communities made them highly tempting targets for neighbouring peoples: entire communities would be raided, with all the women raped or taken as slaves. Sχáskari society had no precedent for arming women and entrusting them with their own defense, so frequently the warbands mentioned earlier would be stationed at a nunnery. Eventually, it became the accepted social practice to send all young girls to a nunnery for her education, in much the same way that all young boys used to be sent to a Buddhist monastary in South-East Asia. An upshot of this was that frequently a woman would meet her future husbands at the nunnery, while they were guarding the nuns. Those women who found husbands left to start up a family, while those who didn't mainly stayed.

Of course, not everybody is cut out for the religious life. With the rise in urbanism, young women might run away from the nunnery and make for a life of adventure and prostitution in the big towns along the coast. More common were those who simply went back to their home villages, where they would live in their mothers' houses, possibly taking a discreet lover of either sex: male homosexuality had some degree of sanction in the context of a żasálan relationship, but female homosexuality was frowned upon. The Sχáskari word séɣri unmarried adult woman did not carry the same kind of negative connotations as the English "spinster".

What's this?

You are currently reading Sχaskari polyandry at logodædalus.


§ 2 Response to “Sχaskari polyandry”

  • Lee says:

    extra-terrestrial anthropology?

    awesome :)

    one day i will do some sort of extra terrestrial palaeontological sythesis.

  • Curtis says:

    Tailanca? Arvorec, cynt a vus,
    down denioljones.net
    Dead server?
    Moving them elsewhere?
    Dont let Arvorec die, it has been an
    plucky Islanders, poached of Latin
    marinated in Gaulish
    a language without i
    good for calligraphy practice, with
    all those ascenders and descenders.

§ Leave a comment: