Santal - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Ideologically, the reasons given for marriage are to place offspring under the ancestor spirit ( bo&NA;ga ) of the husband's clan and to secure labor for the land. Marriage may be of several types. William Archer notes fourteen forms, but the most important are bride-price and bride-service variants. Other alternatives are marriage by capture or elopement. The variations in form reflect the relative positions of spouses: bride-price leads to virilocal residence and is seen as the ideal form, but poor grooms performing bride-service reside uxorilocally. The openness of the system is reflected in the relative ease of divorce by mutual agreement, the provision for taking a second wife, the remarriage of widows, and the special arrangement of purchasing a groom for an unmarried mother.

Domestic Unit. Household units tend toward extended rather than nuclear families, with sons and their wives remaining in the paternal household. It is, however, common for sons to separate before the death of the father, sometimes at the latter's initiative. It is also common to extend nuclear households by the unmarried sister of the wife or through other arrangements. Nuclear households are an ever-present, though numerically relatively unimportant, alternative. Levirate and sororate are not uncommon in the case of the death of either spouse.

Inheritance. Inheritance rules are complex among the Santals, but land is usually divided among the brothers, with smaller portions going to daughters as dowry. In certain cases, unmarried girls may inherit land, but their land reverts to brothers on marriage.

Socialization. The most striking feature of socialization among Santals is the role of grandparents of both sexes. It is through them that children receive their cultural education, even sometimes to the extent of grandmothers initiating their grandsons sexually. Children are disciplined by teasing rather than punishment; while breast-feeding is prolonged, toilet training is achieved at an early age. Children have to work early; otherwise education is very liberal, with much emphasis on cleanliness.

Boys are initiated at the age of 8 or 10, when the five tribal marks are branded on their forearms by a maternal uncle. Girls are tattooed by Hindu or Muslim specialists at the age of 14, following the first menstruation ceremony, which shows Hindu features. At this age, girls are considered to be sexually mature.

Modern education is still a problem, because of a lack of teachers in outlying areas. There is, however, less difference in school attendance between boys and girls than among the nontribals. Christian children receive more and better education.


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