Amhara - Marriage and Family

Marriage. There are three predominant types of marriage in Amhara tradition. Only a minority—the priesthood, some older persons, and nobility—engage in eucharistic church marriage ( qurban ). No divorce is possible. Widows and widowers may remarry, except for priests, who are instead expected to become monks.

Kin-negotiated civil marriage ( semanya; lit., "eighty") is most common. (Violation of the oath of marriage used to be penalized by a fine of 80 Maria Theresa thalers.) No church ceremony is involved, but a priest may be present at the wedding to bless the couple. Divorce, which involves the division of property and determination of custody of children, can be negotiated. Temporary marriage ( damoz ) obliges the husband to pay housekeeper's wages for a period stated in advance. This was felt to be an essential arrangement in an economy where restaurant and hotel services were not available. The term is a contraction of demewez, "blood and sweat" (compensation). The contract, although oral, was before witnesses and was therefore enforceable by court order. The wife had no right of inheritance, but if children were conceived during the contract period, they could make a claim for part of the father's property, should he die. Damoz rights were even recognized in modern law during the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie.

Socialization in the domestic unit begins with the naming of the baby (giving him or her the "world name"), a privilege that usually belongs to the mother. She may base it on her predominant emotion at the time (e.g., Desta [joy] or Almaz [diamond]), on a significant event occurring at the time, or on a special wish she may have for the personality or future of her baby (Seyum, "to be appointed to dignity").

Socialization. Breast-feeding may last two years, during which the nursling is never out of touch with the body of the mother or another woman. Until they are weaned, at about age 7, children are treated with permissiveness, in contrast to the authoritarian training that is to follow. The state of reason and incipient discipline begins gradually at about age 5 for girls and 7 for boys. The former assist their mothers in watching babies and fetching wood; boys take sheep and cows to pasture and, with slingshots, guard crops against birds and baboons. Both can be questioned in court to express preferences concerning guardianship in case of their parents' divorce. Neglect of duty is punished by immediate scolding and beating.

Formal education in the traditional rural church school rarely began before age 11 for boys. Hazing patterns to test courage are common among boys as they grow up, both physically and verbally. Girls are enculturated to appear shy, but may play house with boys prior to adolescence. Adolescence is the beginning of stricter obedience for both sexes, compensated by pride in being assigned greater responsibilities. Young men are addressed as ashker and do most of the plowing; by age 18 they may be addressed as gobez, signifying (strong, handsome) young warrior. On the Temqet (baptism of Jesus) festival, the young men encounter each other in teams to compete in the game of guks, a tournament fought on horseback with blunt, wooden lances, in which injuries are avoided by ducking or protecting oneself with leather shields. At Christmas, a hockeylike game called genna is played and celebrated by boasting ( fukkara ). Female adolescents are addressed as qonjo (beautiful), no longer as leja-gered (servant maid), unless criticized. Singing loudly in groups while gathering firewood attracts groups of young men, away from parental supervision. Young men and women also meet following the guks and genna games, wearing new clothes and traditional makeup and hairstyles. Outdoor flirting reaches a peak on Easter (Fassika), at the end of the dry season.

Domestic Unit. The traditional age of a girl at first marriage may be as young as 14, to protect her virginity, and to enable the groom to tame her more easily. A groom three to five years older than the bride is preferred. To protect the bride against excessive violence, she is assigned two best men, who wait behind a curtain as the marriage is consummated; later, she may call on them in case of batter.

The term shemagelyē signifies an elder and connotes seriousness, wisdom, and command of human relations within the residential kin group or beyond. He may be 40 years of age and already a grandfather. There is no automatic equivalency for elder women, but they can take the qob of a nun and continue to live at home while working in the churchyard, baking bread and brewing beer for the priests. Only women past menopause, usually widows, are accepted as nuns by the Monophysite Aybssinian church. Younger women are not considered sufficiently serious to be able to deny their sex drives.

Inheritance. When death is approaching, elder kin of the dying person bring the confessor, and the last will concerning inheritance is pronounced. Fields are given to patrilineal descendants, cattle to ail offspring. Personal belongings, such as oxhide mats and a shamma (toga), may be given to the confessor, who administers last rites and assigns a burial place in the churchyard. Endowments to the church are handled by the qes gobez.

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