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Polygamous Families Fading Gradually in Tibet
Dara, who led a polygamous lifestyle in Tibet with two brothers for 14 straight years, is finally living out her life with her "Mr. Right" following the departure of one of her husbands, Laqiong.

Xiaguo, her remaining husband, Laqiong's elder brother, was delighted to see the end of their polygamous family in Jiacuoxiong Village of Xigaze prefecture in southern part of the Tibetan autonomous region, where polygamy was a common practice.

"No one can share Dara with me any more", he said joyously, "We are very happy and faithful to each other now."

Fourteen years ago, 15-year-old Dara's parents arranged for herto marry two brothers she had never met.

The reason for the polygamous marriage was that the two poor brothers could not afford their own separate wives as bridegrooms in Tibet had to offer costly betrothal gifts.

"Laqiong was the first to demand a break-up of the family, saying that he wished to have a life of his own," Dara said calmly, without showing the least hesitation or sadness in her voice.

Since the late 1990s, when Dara's younger husband obtained his driving license, he had spent most of his time far away from home.

Laqiong, who works in the transportation business, travels a lot every year and earns a very decent living.

"He has fallen in love with another girl from another village and can afford to marry her," Dara said.

For Tibetan women like Dara, being left by one of several husbands is not a bad thing. The ancient mating pattern, which originated during the era of serfdom, is fading quickly.

In Jiacuoxiong Village, approximately 100 polygamous families, each consisting of one wife and two or three husbands, have been broken up and rebuilt into monogamous ones.

Prior to 1996, however, the large majority of the village's households featured a plurality of husbands.

Noted historian Prof. Ceyang, with the prestigious Tibetan University, attributes the former prevalence of polygamy to the poverty of Tibetan serfs and slaves, who made up more than 95 percent of the Tibetan population before Tibet, popularly known as the roof of the world, was peacefully liberated in 1951.

"On one hand, poverty made it impossible for male serfs to marry their own wives. On the other hand, every serf family had to have an adequate labor force to handle the back-breaking, strenuous work load imposed by land owners," he said.

As the practice was passed down from generation to generation, most Tibetans took polygamy for granted. An old adage said, "Family break-ups give rise to beggars".

Dr. Banque, a noted anthropologist with the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences said, "To secure the integrity of family assets and labor force, it was considered pragmatic for two or three brothers of a family to share one wife."

"In the absence of a bond of true love, nevertheless, their marital status is rather fragile and has a negative impact on the health of the offspring," he added.

After Tibet's peaceful liberation, the People's Congress of the Tibetan Autonomous Region issued a regulation in compliance with the country's Marriage Law and declaring polygamy illegal.

Out of respect for the traditions of the people in Tibet, the Tibetan Autonomous Regional Government also stipulates that no interference should occur with regard to polygamous families already in existence.

"People envy us a great deal," Xiaguo said, rather contented with his life after the family break-up.

Last year, the couple raked in some 15,000 yuan (approximately US$1,800), which, Xiaguo said, is much higher than ever before.

Apart from plowing their 2.7 hectare tract of highland barley and wheat, the husband and wife also purchased an all-terrain vehicle at a cost of 40,000 yuan (about US$4,820) and started an automobile leasing business.

Today, many young Tibetans are foregoing the polygamous tradition of their parents and grandparents in favor of "Miss or Mr. Right".

Dora, general manager of the Tibetan Zhufeng Agricultural Machinery Company, was able to marry the ideal girl he adored despite his parents' request that he should share a common wife with his two brothers.

On his own since the age of 16, Dora has become a shrewd businessman who knows what he wants and how to get it.

Since the end of feudal serfdom, Tibetans enjoy equal rights in terms of education and employment. The school admission rate of Tibetan school-age children has climbed from 2 percent in the early 1950s to the present 88.3 percent.

As the productivity and living standards of the Tibetan people continue to rise, the region is no longer secluded and inaccessible.

However, in order for polygamy to come to a definitive end, Tibetan people will continue to open their minds further and need to further increase their incomes, scholars said.

(Xinhua News Agency April 25, 2003)

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