Polyandry, a form of polygamy in which a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time, is no longer popular in Laya. There are women with two husbands or more, but they are holdovers from the past.
The younger generation of Layaps prefer single partner to multiple.
The custom polyandry in Laya was born of the remoteness of the place. Laya remained largely inaccessible. Even today, it is a grueling eight hours’ walk from Gasa.
Laya Gup Lhakpa Tshering said: “Laya was remote, detached, and remained hidden in the mountains. Marrying an outsider was looked down upon.” As a small and independent community, trust was important.
“People preferred to live together as not many could afford to build a house of their own. So the custom of marrying more than one husband was common,” said Lhakpa Tshering.
Being in the highland, people could not grow many crops. Trade was difficult, which meant days, sometime a month’s journey across the border in the north.
When one husband went for shopping in Punakha, which took at least four days, the other left with cattle to the pastures higher up. That was how the Layaps ensured that they lived a comfortable enough life. Polyandry in Laya was born of economic challenges.
But change is coming to Laya. There is a small school and a basic health unit. Cordyceps collection has been a blessing to the people of the community. Residents of the village are by far wealthier today than they were a decade ago. The road from Gasa to Laya has reached Koina, a boggy little stretch in the fog where tourists and government officials heading to Laya stop for breath and a quick snack.
Cultural change is palpable. The community’s traditional dress is a relic of the past. Even houses are not built the Laya-style anymore. There is construction boon of a sort going on in the village. Builders are hired from the east.
Dorji, 52, from Neylu said: “Children today prefer getting married with a single partner. There is no way we can force them otherwise.”
Tshering, 29, from Lungu, has two husbands. They are brothers. She got married to the elder one when she was 16. One is a carpenter, the other looks after horses.
“We don’t face any problem as my husbands are brothers. And we need not depend on each other in difficult times,” said Tshering. “But things are changing now. People are becoming more independent.”
Yes, economic opportunities have opened the doors and the change sweeping up the quint little village. High in the mountains, Laya could be one of the most prosperous villages in the country today.
Nima | Laya