28th Jan 2015

King Mausolus and Queen Artemisia II of Caria

Statue of King Mausolus from the Mausoleum

The love between Artemisia II and her brother Mausolus was so profound, they became symbols of love and devotion. Mausolus was a rich Greek vassal of the Persian Empire in what is now Turkey. Under the reign of he and his sister, their territory flourished, and they built many monuments.

Artist’s depiction of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Horse from the roof of the Mausoleum

Their final monument was so glorious, it became known as one of the seven wonders of the world: a giant tomb, to house their ashes. (It’s from “Mausolus” that we get the word “mausoleum.”) When her brother Mausolus died, Artemisia’s grief was so great that she ritually drank a bit of his ashes every day. She ruled well for two years, but eventually wasted away from sorrow. Her ashes were sealed in the Mausoleum with what remained of her brother’s. Their tomb would last for over a thousand years, amazing everyone who saw it.

Modern statue of Artimesia II drinking Mausolus’ ashes

King Kamehameha III and Princess Nahi’ena’ena

Portrait of King Kamehameha III of Hawai’i
Portrait of Princess Nahi’ena’ena

Like other Polynesian cultures, it was common practice in Hawai’ian society for royals to marry within their own family. The practice was actually encouraged by Hawai’ian elders. When Christian missionaries came to Hawai’i, they tried to crush the practice. The last Hawai’ian king to have a consanguineous relationship was Hawai’ian king Kamehameha III, the first Christian king of Hawai’i. However, he didn’t succumb to the wishes of the missionaries.

At an early age, he had fallen in love with his sister Nahi’ena’ena, and wanted to marry her. Because of opposition by the missionaries, he did not, but he also held off marrying the preferred choice of the missionaries for many years. Bingham learned that even after King Kamehameha III of Hawaii accepted Christian rule, he slept for several years with his sister, Princess Nahi’ena’ena — pleasing their elders but disturbing the missionaries. They did it, says historian Carando, because they loved each other.” He only married the wife favored by the missionaries after his sister had died.


A follower asked me a question, and I answered

Hi there- i hope this doesnt offend you, i dont mean to judge or anything, im genuinely curious… you post about marriage equality for siblings and such- i support full marriage equality too, even for family if its consentual and loving… but also i was ritually abused by my mother for a long time as a child so this issue is conflicting and confusing for me to think about. I dont want to assume all interfamilial romances are screwed up like my experience was- but its really hard for me to imag

Hi again- admittedly its my fault im uneducated about the subject… but sometimes its easier to hear things from a person. (Its hard for me to go out and actively search for family anything without getting triggered) but im polyamorous so if i want marriage equality it would be the height of hypocracy to deny it to amyone else. Okay im seriously going now. Lol. Marriage solidarity! (And sorry again if i was rude- im trying to understand and overcome any misconsceptions i have)

My answer:

Don’t worry. It’s fine.

This is actually something I think really hard about. I understand your confusion on the issue, emotionally. I also think that it makes you an even more virtuous person for standing by your principles. I’ve found that some of the most violent opponents of marriage equality for consanguinamorous couples are those who experienced familial sexual abuse. (I saw one guy on a forum actually say that allies like me should be thrown in jail.) I’m really sorry you had to go through that, and I want to make clear that I have no emotional confusion about sexual abuse being horrendous, and in need of legal punishment.

I assume you’ve read the case studies posted by me and Full Marriage Equality? In case you missed it, I have a list of my own most relevant posts. First of all, the taboo itself isn’t about protecting children. That’s not where it came from, and it’s not why the laws came into existence in the late 1800s. Just look at the gross things people feel and you can see it yourself. I replied a while back to someone’s concerns over normalizing child abuse, which I think isn’t a problem because in some ways our society already does that. (It’s the one common concern that I actually take seriously.)

If we want to stop child abuse, we should focus on child abuse, and not pick some secondary characteristic which may not be associated with abuse at all. For one, it seems that there may be more cases of consensual sexual contact than non-consensual, but it gets reported much less for obvious reasons. Also, statistics on victims show that non-relatives who have intimate authority are the most likely to be abusers, such as step-parents, boyfriends/girlfriends of family, teachers, etc.

A perfect example of how confused people are about how it all works, is that people are more accepting of sibling consanguinamory than parent/adult child consanguinamory, yet psychologists and therapists have started to realize that sexual abuse by siblings is far more common than by parents. Even still, we have some data which shows that only a minority of sexual contact between siblings is non-consensual (about 4-5% of the population, given about 15% have had some kind of contact with a sibling, including just experimentation). What does that say about consensual relationships with parents in the population? Not sure, there’s barely any data on sibling consanguinamory as it is.

This is actually part of why I think the taboo and the laws are harmful to victims of familial sexual abuse. Can abusive, dysfunctional behavior be understood without its healthy, functional correlate? If we knew absolutely nothing about the sex lives of happily married couples, would we have any context for understanding serial rapists? In the same vein, the cultural and academic silence around adult, healthy, consensual relationships between family and relatives creates a canyon of ignorance that distorts and blinds any attempts at understanding – and thus detecting, controlling, preventing, and treating – familial sexual abuse and rape. (Step-family relationships get plenty of residual stigma from the taboo, and sometimes are even illegal.)

In addition, the taboo is just distracting from the real issue, and I think acts as an extra harm by adding to the sex-negative cultural environment that victims are exposed to, and which they internalize.When your mother abused you, did you feel ashamed because there were sexual acts going on with your mother? Not just that you were being sexually used, but sexually used by a family member? When people express disgust at the idea of consensual “incest”, do you feel that somehow that disgust is directed at you too? If you’ve ever felt that way, then you have personal proof that the taboo was used unconsciously to attack and shame you, a victim. And clearly it didn’t work on stopping your mother.

Who’s the taboo for then? Taboos exist to discourage willing participants from engaging in socially unacceptable behavior. People who disregard the boundaries and psychological well-being of their own children are probably not the kind of people to care too much about whether they’re a “bad person” by society’s standards. Rapists find ways of justifying it to themselves, or ignoring the moral consequences.

What I’m getting at is, the taboo was never meant to help you, and in its attempt at attacking consenting adults, it also attacks non-consenting children. It just gives them one more thing to feel ashamed about. Think of all the little boys who were abused by men, who were shamed by their abusers into silence with the idea that being raped somehow meant they were “gay”. In a society where homosexuality is understood from an early age to be an okay thing, such ideas and threats have little psychological power to harm. Blind sex-negative mores, frequently used to abuse consenting sexual minorities, become the weapons of abusers to psychologically manipulate their victims.

I’ll impart some of the psychological insight I’ve picked up, even if it lacks the backing of sufficient published research (because almost no academic cares or is brave enough to pursue it). (Which I’m working on!)

There’s an argument – a decent one actually – that familial sexual abuse is related to improper bonding. (This part, since it deals with sexual abuse, has some actual academic backing.) Parent/child bonding in social animals, especially primates, is very important to emotional development. Some people who are sensitive to this absence don’t develop the proper emotional abilities to bond with people, adults or children. This translates into them repeating the sexual abuse with their own children. The argument is, because their bonding with their own children is disrupted, and they lacked proper attachment with their own parents, the normal evolved psychological inhibitions don’t kick in. Desexualization of family comes from the attachments built during play and care-giving. When that attachment is improper, those inhibitions don’t develop either.

I don’t completely buy the argument, in part just because I think it simplifies some things away. For example, desexualization would only matters from an evolutionary perspective for adolescents. There is no evolutionary reason for adults to feel any sexual feeling for pre-pubescent children, and in nature adult primates do not seek out sexual contact with pre-sexual young at all. Since so much familial sexual abuse happens with pre-pubescent children, there must be something further going on.After all, the parents aren’t just feeling sexual attraction, they’re acting on it, regardless of their child’s positive or negative reactions. Many abusers even seem clinically narcissistic.

The fact is, even the best explanations don’t properly explain why familial sexual abuse happens, because they have no understanding of consensual sex and sexual attraction inside families. Freud was bunk, but I’m not sure Westermarck was completely right either. Humans are apes, but we’re also very bizarre apes, physically and behaviorally. The rape of pre-pubescent children just doesn’t happen outside of humans.

One of the primary reasons why I question the idea of mal-attachment as the primary explanation for familial abuse, is that in most of the cases of consanguinamorous relationships I’ve heard of, read about, etc., they actually have abnormally strong attachment and intimacy. I don’t know if you’ve gone through some of the cases on FME’s blog. I’ve also read accounts elsewhere.

On some occasions, there was a lack of intimacy growing up, which later sexual and romantic intimacy seems to make up for and heal. (It’s thought by some who study GSA that reunited family members experience such a desire, but I feel like that’s flimsy.) The usual case is normal attachment and intimacy, even to an extreme point. With sibling couples who grew up together, it frequently sounds like the very best of childhood friends who were practically mind-melded from the day they met.

With parent/adult child relationships, it frequently seems like the aging of their child is key in the parent seeing them as a possible sexual or romantic partner. In emotionally healthy families with proper early attachment, children become increasingly emotionally and economically independent as they get older, and their parents contribute to this. This independence and autonomy, and the social maturity and status is brings, change the relationship between children and parents. Good parents respect their children already, and raise them to be adults worthy of respect. Children in healthy households earn their parents respect as they mature.

Thus, in healthy households, there’s more mutual respect between adult parents and children than in unhealthy ones. I think this, even given the fact that effective parents are the kind of people who actually accumulated wisdom with age, and so are more deserving of continued deference even beyond childhood. For example, I’ve read stories of fathers and daughters, where the daughters practically had to yell in their ears, demanding sex, because their fathers were exercising so much restraint. Such behavior is clearly the opposite of what is exhibited by fathers in unhealthy, abusive families.

In healthy, consensual relationships, there’s frequently a synthesis of roles and emotions going on. Just evolutionarily, we have (usually) a set of bonding emotions for kin, which drive us to spend time with them and care for them, and we have a set of bonding emotions for mates, which produce similar behavior but also usually have sexual associations. Both types of attachment produce different types of intimacy. People in sexual relationships with family frequently don’t experience one or the other of these, but both simultaneously. When they’re having sex, they’re experiencing it as a romantic bonding act, and as a familial bonding act. The idea is bizarre to outsiders, but it’s a pattern seen over and over.

Interestingly, with parents it’s frequently less romantic, and more familial. (This may have to do with the inherent separation in generations and social groups created by age and status, which makes it easier to maintain familial role distinctions even in the midst of a sexual relationship.) It’s pretty common for those who have sexual relationships with a parent to become more intimate with them, but to not see them as a full romantic partner. They go on to get married and have a full romantic relationship with someone else, but may continue their sexual relationship with their parent, because they see them as emotionally distinct and thus non-competitive. (Basically, because they still see their father as just their father during sex, it doesn’t feel like cheating that much to them, and vice versa.)

Relationships with familial parents tend to be more “family with benefits”, while sibling relationships have a greater tendency to veer into full-on romance. However, parent/child relationship can become romantic as well, and the increasing equality between parents and children as children mature is a major factor in the potential for romance. (There are also siblings with “family with benefits” relationships too, though sometimes just because the social consequences and taboo make them actively stunt the development of their own romantic intimacy.)

Also, the healthiest sexual relationships between family members seem to occur in families that are already healthy (i.e. supportive, loving, respectful, empathetic, etc.). When it comes to parent/child relationships, if the parent is a good parent, and expresses a non-possessive, selfless love, then that selflessness and unconditionality will usually be transferred to a sexual relationship, and even to a romantic relationship. Basically, the personality traits that make someone a good parent (which means wielding authority benevolently) are also the ones that make having a healthy sexual relationship with their own adult children possible – even with the continuation of some power differential, since they’ve already demonstrated their ability to restrain the use of their authority for the benefit of others.

When the relationship does become fully romantic, the synthesis of familial bonding and intimacy, with romantic bonding and intimacy, leads to those involved feeling levels of closeness and love which are so overpowering that they find it difficult to describe in words. It’s such a unique experience that outsiders have trouble comprehending it, and our language lacks words for it. (I’ve coined the word “erostorgia” for it.) It’s the simultaneous experience of our two most powerful evolved emotions for bonding. As you can see, it seems in almost every way to be the complete opposite of what happens psychologically with familial sexual abuse.

Of course, this whole time I’ve been explicitly talking about familial relationships only. This means anyone who one grows up with from an early age as family, since psychologically they’re all equivalent. GSArelationships are psychologically very different, and much easier to understand. Without growing up together as family, no attachment bonds are formed, and no sexual aversion develops for those specific people. When they reunite, they just see each other as normal human beings. It’s extremely common for such people to say that no matter how many psychological hoops they jump through, they can’t condition themselves emotionally to see the other person as family.

Many people also experience an immediate, visceral and overwhelming attraction which many think is rooted in an evolutionary preference for people with similar genes. I think this theory makes a lot of sense, but can’t be completely the case, since some reunited family experience normal levels of attraction, and even when there is a seemingly unconscious reaction, it’s rarely for more than one or two people. It’s not uncommon for someone to be reunited with a bunch of family members, and to only feel attraction to one. Their attraction for that one person, however, may be overwhelming to a point beyond what’s felt by people for unrelated mates.

Unfortunately, even though GSA relationships are between people who are not socially family, and thus are socially equivalent to any other kind of non-kin romance, taboos and laws apply to them just the same. Because of the rise in divorce and adoption, and the fact that people are much more likely to be attracted to kin if they’re not family, GSA relationships are likely the majority of all long-term relationships with kin. Taboos and laws blindly apply to them, as well as to relationships with step-family and adopted family. It’s ridiculous. How can both of those groups be prohibited, and still have the prohibition be logically consistent?Is it familial social status that’s important, or genetic relationship? Psychologically, neither. The taboo is muddled and blunt, and the laws reflect the taboo.

I do think there’s a complex of genes involved in the development of sexual inhibition during development. That means certain mutations will lead to some people having much stronger, or much weaker inhibitions. For example, I know a brother and sister who are involved, who are both attracted to their mother and their aunt. When they told me that, I laughed and said they were the poster children for the non-universality of the Westermarck effect.

What does this mean for sexual abuse? Well, given that child sexual abuse of non-family doesn’t follow the patterns of normal sexual behavior anyway, not that much. Simply removing the inhibition isn’t enough. Yes, mal-attachment may disrupt the parent’s inhibition for sexual contact with their child, but the motivation to abuse their child probably comes from a psychological dysfunction which commonly caused the bad attachment parenting and lack of respect for child boundaries.

I’m saying, lack of sexual aversion isn’t enough to motivate sexual abuse. I’m sure some abusers, particularly among those that abuse pubescent family, may be among those who naturally lack sexual inhibitions for family. However, that would be meaningless if it wasn’t also accompanied with a psychological propensity for rape. Thus, the fact that the victim was family would be almost incidental (except for the fact that such close and socially obligated victims are prime targets for abuse).

The thing is, I think in both the consanguinamorous group, and the sexually abusive group, there are many who should genetically be programmed to experience aversion to sex with family, but for some reason don’t experience it. In the abusive group this lack of aversion may very well be due to mal-attachment behavior. In the consanguinamorous group, it’s very complicated.

For one, sometimes people in such relationships do experience aversion, just not for their partner. For example, the brother fromataleof2siblings has said that even though he acknowledges that his other sisters are very beautiful, and should be sexually attractive by his own standards, he doesn’t see them sexually and only sees them as his sisters. He is very attracted to his sister-partner though, and sees her as his wife. They’d been sexually playing uninterrupted since they were pre-pubescent, which may have something to do with why they never developed non-sexual emotional associations of each other.

In others, it’s common to experience if not aversion, at least complete indifference, until some moment comes along that allows them to sidestep whatever mechanisms are in their brain, and suddenly see their family member as a sexual being. I’ve written about it before. If that’s the case as it seems, then our psychological complexity, and our romantic bonding emotions, would make us more capable of sexual attraction for family than other primates, or than would be expected from our genes.

I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I’ve written a pamphlet for the family of consanguinamorous siblings, and I think you might find it helpful. It talks about other issues, like children, historical precedence, and such.

I’d like to add some comments I’ve left on FME’s blog, because they’re related to all this:

Grooming is child abuse. Period. A parent’s first priority should always be being the best parent possible for their child, and ensuring their child develops properly into a competent, functional, social adult. Raising one’s children merely for one’s own sexual/emotional gratification is [narcissistic], and a clear violation of a parent’s primary duty to their children. Some issues are complex. This one isn’t.

“If I wasn’t clear enough: grooming should be against the law. It should be punishable by jail time. I consider it a form of emotional rape. There’s nothing “loving” about it. It’s manipulative and exploitative. This actually shows why our current laws are so stupid: consensual adult acts are criminalized, but grooming – when the child is not sexually “reaped” until adulthood – is not, itself, criminalized. If I had my way, I would reverse the legality of those two.”

Child [sexual] abuse is always a concern with any [preferably non-sexual] adult/child relationship. It’s an unfortunate – and horrible – fact of life. There are plenty of cases where, without grooming, a parent and adult child have entered into a sexual relationship. The trick is to openly look at the healthy relationships, compare them to the unhealthy relationships, figure out what the difference is, what was done right and wrong, and then pass laws that criminalize only the abusive relationships, and not the healthy ones. I’m not denying that it gets complicated when it comes to parents and [adult] children, but it’s not opaque.

In case you’re ever ready to read some personal accounts, I’ll provide some for you. I can understand if it’s not something you’re ready for yet. Also, it’s common in the comments for people to get inspired to tell their own stories, so you might want to check them (though there are some pretty dumb comments too, being the internet and all).

Brother/Sister: video1, video2, video3video4video5, video6text1,text2, text3 (a pansexual poly* triad), the rest can be found in my pamphlet.
Brother/Brother: text1, text3, text4, text5.
Sister/Sister: text1, text2.
Uncle/Niece: video.
Father/Daughter: video1, video2video3text1, text2, text3, text4 (I actually know her), text6.
Mother/Son: text1, text2, text3text4 (a poly* triad), text5, text6.

Also, I think these movies could help you understand.

This is actually the most extensive knowledge on consensual sex and romance between relatives and family that currently exists. I’m not being hyperbolic; the state of human knowledge on this subject is pathetic. Some dude on the internet is borderline the world’s top expert. It makes me laugh. I can say that this is literally the single least understood aspect of human psychology. An aspect of human sexuality which has been massively politically and economically influential throughout history, and which may have a larger role in changing society than homosexuality, has no major academic interested in it.

I hope that, whatever your question was, this answered it. At the very least you’re more educated now.


The Catholic Church, “Incest”, and taboo as a political weapon

The Roman Catholic Church’s definition of incest is one of the most intriguing features of medieval marriage. Neither the Old nor New Testament provided any basis for it. But in the mid-sixth century, church synods began to denounce as incestuous the Old Testament practice of marrying a brother’s widow. Also, during the sixth and seventh centuries bishops began condemning marriage to first and second cousins, stepmothers or stepdaughters, and the widows of uncles. […]

A few decades later marriage was forbidden up to the seventh degree of separation […]. This made it illegal to marry a descendant of one’s great-great-great-great-grandfather! By the end of the eighth century it was incestuous to marry in-laws, the kin of godparents or godchildren, or a relative of someone you had once had sexual intercourse with. It was also forbidden to marry a relative of someone you had previously promised but failed to marry. These prohibitions were so broad that almost any match could be ruled invalid. One historian notes that, at least in theory, the incest rules prohibited young village men from wedding “all the marriageable girls they could possibly know and a great many more besides.”

Whatever the reasons for their breadth, these incest prohibitions became very useful weapons in the power struggles of the age. […][I]n the medieval period the Church still enforced most of its principles on marriage erratically and arbitrarily. It spent little time investigating the marriages of common folk, although it readily sold dispensations when a conscientious commoner asked for a formal exemption from the rules that most people simply ignored. Even in a royal or aristocratic marriage, the Church seldom inquired into the degree of familial connection unless it was engaged in a power struggle with one of the families involved or was asked to intervene.

[…] In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council narrowed the definition of incest to four degrees of separation. The council’s stated aim was to enforce the modified ban more stringently. But popes continued to grant dispensations for political or financial gain. Under the papacy of Boniface IV (1389-1404), marital dispensations were openly available for sale, with a sliding fee scale based on the value of the concession being sought.

– Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History


The French Revolution and the sexual revolution

Especially momentous for relations between husband and wife was the weakening of the political model upon which marriage had long been based.Until the late seventeenth century the family was thought of as a miniature monarchy, with the husband king over his dependents. As long as political absolutism remained unchallenged in society as a whole, so did the hierarchy of traditional marriage. But the new political ideals fostered by the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688 and the even more far-reaching revolutions in America and France in the last quarter of the eighteenth century dealt a series of cataclysmic blows to the traditional justification of patriarchal authority.

In the late seventeenth century John Locke argued that governmental authority was simply a contract between ruler and ruled and that if a ruler exceeded the authority his subjects granted him, he could be replaced. In 1698 he suggested that marriage too could be seen as a contract between equals.

[…] If wives and husbands were intimates, wouldn’t women demand to share decisions equally? If women possessed the same faculties of reason as men, why would they confine themselves to domesticity? Would men still financially support women and children if they lost control over their wives’ and children’s labor and could not even discipline them properly? If parents, church, and state no longer dictated people’s private lives, how could society make sure the right people married and had children or stop the wrong ones from doing so?

Conservatives warned that “the pursuit of happiness,” claimed as a right in the American Declaration of Independence, would undermine the social and moral order.

[…] The revolutionary government in France made divorce the most accessible it would be until 1975 and also abolished the legal penalties for homosexual acts. Such penalties ran contrary to the Enlightenment principle that the state should remain aloof from people’s private lives.“Sodomy violates the rights of no man,” said Condorcet. Although Napoleon repealed France’s liberal divorce law in the early 1800s, he reaffirmed the decriminalization of homosexuality, [and also decriminalized consanguinamory].

During the 1790s the French revolutionaries redefined marriage as a freely chosen civil contract, abolished the right of fathers to imprison children to compel obedience, mandated equal inheritance for daughters and sons, and even challenged the practice of denying inheritance rights to illegitimate children, the cornerstone of property rights for thousands of years.

– Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History


The history of the concept of “illegitimacy” in Japan

Japan had no equivalent to the English word bastard until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Only then did Japanese reformers adopt Western distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate children. Prior to that time, the language had a word to indicate that a child had been born to a concubine rather than a wife, but such a child was not necessarily denied inheritance rights or legal recognition. Indeed, the Taishou Emperor, who ascended to the throne in 1912, was the son of a concubine of the last Meiji emperor.


– Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History


An Emperor’s sister and her harem

Imperial princesses were exempted from many of the rules that governed wives in China, and only the emperor could discipline them. During the rule of the Southern Dynasties (A.D. 317-589), one Chinese princess argued that she, like her brother the emperor, was entitled to a harem. Her wishes prevailed, and she was assigned thirty male “concubines.”

– Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History


Traditional Sinhalese Marriage Laws and Customs

A fascinating account of the history of marriage on the island of Sri Lanka.

During ancient times, pre-Buddhistic Sinhalese marriage laws and customs would have been similar to those prescribed in the laws of Manu (Manava – Dharma – Sastra) written in North India sometime between the 3rd century B.C.-1st century A.C. The work, which is a compilation of the traditions of the ancient Indo-Aryan Hindus reflects a rigid patriarchal society with extended family households.

[…] With the advent of Buddhism to the island during the 3rd century B.C., we may presume that the legal position of women underwent a significant improvement. […] There were of course a number of […] conditions that had to be fulfilled, before a marriage could be contracted. Besides parental consent the parties to the marriage had to (1) belong to the same caste, (2) they were not to be related within the prohibited degrees of relationship and (3) they had to have the intention of forming a definite alliance.

[…] Kandyan law also prohibited marriages between close relatives. This included a man”s daughter (duva), sister (sahodari; this included the daughter of one’s father’s brother or one’s mother’s sister) and nenda (paternal aunt), though he could marry his niece (leli) and maternal aunts (loku-amma, kudamma).

For a marriage to be valid, the parties also had to have the intention of forming a marital union. This was due to the fact that in Kandyan society, sexual morality hardly ever mattered and polygyny (a man taking more than one wife), polyandry (a woman taking more than one husband) and concubinage were all recognised as legal. Group marriages and trial marriages were also commonplace.

Furthermore, Buddhism saw to it that marriage in Sinhalese society became a secular contract and not a rigid sacrament as in Hindu law, so that marriage itself had “little force or validity” as noted by Knox. Says Knox, “In this country, even the greatest hath but one wife, but a woman often has two husbands.”

The polyandry practiced in Kandyan times was usually of the fraternal type and was known by the euphemism eka-ge-kama (lit. eating in one house). Joao Riberio (1685) says of the Sinhalese during the time of Portugues rule (17th century): “A girl makes a contract to marry a man of her own caste (for she cannot marry outside it), and if the relatives are agreeable they give a banquet and unite the betrothed couple. The next day a brother of the husband takes his place, and if there are seven brothers she is the wife of all of them, distributing the nights by turns, without the husband having a greater right than any of his brothers. […] [T]he woman who is married to a husband with a large number of brothers is considered very fortunate, for all toil and cultivate for her and bring whatever they earn to the house, and she lives much honoured and well supported and for this reason the children call all the brothers their fathers.”

[…] There also existed group marriages, where the brothers of one family jointly entered into matrimony with the sisters of another. Polygyny and polyandry however did not find favour with the British who saw to its abolition by means of the Kandyan marriage ordinance of 1859.

Trial marriages were also common among the Kandyans. Davy (Account of the interior of Ceylon 1821) says that the first fortnight of the bride’s cohabitation with her husband was a period of trial at the end of which the marriage was either annulled or confirmed.

[…] Divorce, as might be expected of such a promiscuous society, was very easy. Kandyan law recognised that either men or women may dissolve the marriage tie at their will and pleasure. Says Knox, “Both women and men do commonly wed four or five times before they can settle themselves to their contentation.”

[…] Kandyan law recognised two forms of marriage, namely, diga marriage and binna marriage. In diga marriage, the woman went to live in her husband’s house and gave up her claims to the parental estate. This was the usual mode of marriage among the Kandyans. Binna marriage was a marriage where the husband contracted to go and live in the wife’s house. Such a marriage necessarily entailed the husband being subject to a “petticoat government”, for the wife was the head of the house, a virtual matriarch. It is said to have been a marriage “contracted with a wink and ended by a kick”.

According to Knox, there existed certain lands in Kandy known as bini-pangu that were hereditary through the female line. He says “Younger sons of other families, when grown up, the elder brothers having all the land, they marry these women that have lands. A man in this case only differs from a servant in laying with his mistress for she will bear rule and he no longer then willing to obey can continue but she will turn him away at her pleasure.”

[…] Binna marriage would have been a convenient arrangement by which means readily available male labour could be obtained for running a girl’s parents’ estate in case they had no male offspring. Such an arrangement would have also served to help a woman look after her aged parents in the comfort of their home. Binna marriages are still recognised in the Kandyan districts.