Chagga - Marriage and Family

In pre-Christian days, polygynous marriage was legitimate. Over time, the churches have discouraged this practice, and monogamy (although sometimes in the form of a series of monogamous marriages) now prevails. Marriages used to be negotiated by the parents of the couple. Bride-wealth was paid and an elaborate series of ceremonies held. Some of these ceremonies persist, but indigenous cultural forms are mixed with Christian rituals. Formerly, both males and females were ritually circumcised before they were considered fit for marriage. Modified versions of these practices persist, less commonly for females than for males. Traditionally, a widow was inherited by her husband's heir. Today the husband's heir becomes the "guardian" of the widow and often takes control of whatever property rights she might have, ostensibly in her interest. Although intestate inheritance of land and most other economically significant property is from male to male, succession to such property is not just from father to son or elder to younger brother. It is complicated by the life interest of widows, by various preferred forms of primogeniture and ultimogeniture, and by the discretionary power held by the lineage over the distribution of the property of the dead.

Domestic Unit. The composition of the precolonial household changed over its life cycle and differed in polygynous households from monogamous ones. After marriage, the initial domestic unit was that of a husband, wife, and, eventually, young children. The husband later built a hut of his own, which he shared with his older sons, the wife keeping her own hut with unmarried daughters and very young sons. Households often had other single relatives (e.g., widows and widowers) attached to them. Today households are of variable composition. Many young men leave wives and children on their plots of land on Kilimanjaro while they search for salaried jobs elsewhere.

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