Bamiléké - Marriage and Family



Marriage. Marriage is exogamous, preventing individuals with patrilineal links up to the fourth generation from marrying, and preventing marriage with any matrilineal kin. Two forms of exchange govern relations between wife givers and wife receivers. In bride-price marriage, the groom gains reproductive, sexual, and domestic rights by giving gifts of palm oil, goats, blankets, firewood, and money to the family of his bride. In ta nkap marriage, no bride-price is exchanged between the bride's father and the groom. The bride's father retains rights over the marriage and patrilineal identity of his granddaughters, thus becoming their ta nkap ("father by money"). These rights of ta nkap can be inherited, and are a way of capitalizing on matrimonial rights. Although outlawed by the French in 1927 and 1928, the practice continues. In addition to these two traditional marriage options, contemporary Bamiléké may choose Christian marriage with or without bride-wealth, marriage by a justice of the peace, elopement, and single parenthood.

Traditional Bamiléké marriage is virilocal, and sons attempt to settle near their father if there is enough land. Polygyny is a goal that is increasingly difficult to achieve, especially on a grand scale, because of the inflation of bride-price and changing ideas about conjugal relations. The amount of bride-price, although higher for women with more education, seems primarily dependent upon the groom's ability to pay. The term for marriage is "to cook inside," condensing the symbolism of the married woman's confinement to her kitchen, where she literally cooks her husband's meals and figuratively "cooks" (procreates) children.

Domestic Unit. A married man is the de jure head of a household consisting of his wife or wives and their children. In polygynous compounds, co-wives have separate dwellings (see "Settlements"). Although sometimes contentious and competitive, relations among co-wives can be warm and companionable. In royal compounds, older co-wives are assigned to younger co-wives as foster mothers. Full siblings feel strong ties of solidarity, whereas half-siblings are often in competition with each other for attention and inheritance.

Inheritance. Land and real estate are inherited patrilineally and impartibly. Titles are inherited according to both matrilineal and patrilineal rule of descent (see "Land Tenure" and "Kin Groups and Descent").

Socialization. Social roles are learned through example and through stories told around the mother's hearth at mealtimes. Bamiléké report particularly warm relations among full siblings, and refer to hearthside commensality and storytelling as the source of this solidarity. Although mothers play a primary role in child rearing, small children may be left with older siblings or co-wives while their mothers do other work. After age 6, Bamiléké consider child fosterage an appropriate strategy to deal with scarce resources and to help the child learn to interact with a variety of personalities. There are no formal groupinitiation ceremonies at puberty. Boys are now usually circumcised soon after birth. In the past, girls whose families could afford it spent up to six months in seclusion ( nja ), eating fattening foods and learning about marriage and sexuality from female kin. Elderly Bamiléké say that school has now replaced this custom.


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