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Share via Email All in the family: Orola Dalbot far rightand her three children with Noten centre. Her father died when she was small, and her mother remarried soon after.

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Noten was handsome and energetic, with curly bang,adesh hair and a broad smile. Her wedding had taken place when she was three years old in a joint ceremony with her mother. Following tradition in the matrilineal Mandi tribe, an ethnic group of about two million people spread across hill regions of Bangladesh and India, mother and daughter had married the same man. I was visiting the remote Modhupur banglzdesh to report Lnely story about Mandi women fighting deforestation. My travelling companion was an eminent Bangladeshi environmentalist called Philip Gain, who had been studying the area for more than 20 years.

As we drove through the khaki- coloured hills, we talked generally about how Mandi women were the property-owning heads of their households. Gain, 50, a professorial man in a suit jacket and tie who runs the Dhaka-based activist organisation Society for Environment and Human Development SEHDtold me how they shared power with men and had far more independence than women in the majority Bengali population. Then Gain mentioned the mother-daughter joint marriages. He explained that among the Mandi, widows who wish to remarry must choose a man from the same clan as their dead husband to preserve the clan alliance. The only available single men, however, are often much younger men in their late teens.

So the custom evolved: It is better known for its flood plains and typhoon-lashed coasts, but its southeastern and central hills are home to ethnic minorities who mainly practised animism until Catholic missionaries arrived in the late 19th century.

After a few times Parvin gave birth to a casual, Nita, who is now Her shirt members are all there: I toward him curries and never supposed him sex.

The Mandi, who number 25, in the Modhupur region, live a six-hour drive and a world away from the frenetic capital Dhaka. Orola is cooking rice and lentils for breakfast on an open fire when we arrive at her hamlet, a cluster of mud houses flanked by scrubby fields. Her family members are all there: Everyone is doing household chores in the weak morning sunlight. The family's marital arrangement is an open secret in this small Modhupur community, but nobody, Orola says, ever mentions it. But people think it's un-Christian, so they ignore it.

Traditional rituals, such as sacrificing goats to restore a sick person's health, are frowned on by the clergy and have waned. A handful of mother-daughter joint marriages have most likely survived because, like most unions worldwide involving multiple spouses, they serve an economic purpose. Since Mandi marriages represent the consolidation of wealth between two clans, the second, younger wife is a trade to ensure the birth of more children to add to the family's overall wealth and power. I didn't know it had taken place," Orola tells me while she stirs her pots. Although such an arrangement is not considered incest or even child abuse in Mandi culture, where early marriage is the norm, she was distraught to discover she was forced to share her mother's husband.

I wanted a husband of my own. It is women who make the first romantic move, and also propose marriage. Property is passed down the female line, and men live in their wife's household when they marry.

Banglavesh watched her female friends embark merrily on their love lives and felt so isolated that she considered suicide. Eric Rechsteiner for the Observer The three-way marital arrangement was fraught as soon as she was officially a co-wife. My mother knew it was inevitable momx she pushed me into Noten's bed when I was 15 to consummate the marriage. But he quickly began to prefer me to her. I couldn't turn to her for advice any more. There were about another 20 or so older children up to about the age of five. The children all appear happy, well fed and cared for, and they seem to get lots of cuddles from the nuns and helpers. Some of the new borns were so tiny.

You can see one photo of a tiny baby with my fingers in the shot. My fingers are only slightly smaller than the baby's arm. We then went into another room where the older children, nuns, helpers and some mothers were gathered and we gave them our concert.

We sang some Canons and other mpms in Latin for the nuns and they all thoroughly enjoyed them. I had to leave after we finished singing mome get to DICC church in time, but the others stayed on for the rest of the afternoon. The children from the orphanage sang some songs and danced, then they all got together for afternoon tea. It is a great work the orphanage does with limited resources and it was good to play a tiny part in making the children's lives a bit happier.

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