Gusii - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage can be established only through the payment of bride-wealth, in the form of livestock and money, by the husband to the wife's family. This act establishes a socially sanctioned marriage, through which a woman and a man become socially defined mothers and fathers. Residence is at the husband's home. Divorce was and still is rare; it entails the return of the bride-wealth. At the death of a husband, the widow chooses a leviratic husband among the deceased's brothers. Until the 1960s, everyone got married as soon as possible after puberty; by the end of the 1960s, elopements had started to increase in number because of a decline in the demand for wives. The period between the inception of a cohabiting union and the payment of bride-wealth has become progressively more and more extended. In 1985 at least 75 percent of all new unions between women and men were established without the payment of bride-wealth. Without this payment, the union is without social and legal sanction; consequently, there now exists a socially and economically marginalized stratum of single mothers who have no access to land. A related development has been the decline in the value of bride-wealth payments for peasant women, from about thirteen adult zebu cows in the first half of the 1950s to about three by 1985. Employed women—such as nurses and lawyers—fetch higher bride-wealth payments, around the value of fifteen to forty-five zebu cows (although their bride-wealth is frequently paid in cash and European cows).

Domestic Unit. Traditional Gusii households are based on nuclear or polygynous families. Each wife maintains her own household, and, in polygynous families, there is little cooperation between co-wives. With the decline in polygyny, a domestic unit typically has come to consist of a wife, a husband, and their unmarried children. It may also include the husband's mother and, for shorter periods, younger siblings of the wife. Until the birth of the first or second child, a wife and her mother-in-law may cook together and cooperate in farming. Married sons and their wives and children usually maintain their own households and resources.

Inheritance. According to customary law, which is still the effective rule for the majority, only men can inherit. Sons inherit only the cattle, land, and other assets that belong to their own house (enyomba). All the resources that are owned by the father, such as personal cattle or business establishments, should be divided equally between houses, irrespective of the number of sons in each. Although national law recognizes the equal inheritance rights of daughters, customary law has seldom been challenged (see "Land Tenure").

Socialization. Mothers have the ultimate responsibility for the care and socialization of their children, but they delegate a great deal of caretaking and training to other children in the homestead. Mothers seldom show physical or verbal affection for children, and fathers take very little part in child rearing. Gusii infants are raised to understand how to behave according to the codes of shame and respect that apply to their relationships to persons in adjacent generations. The grandparents play a supportive role and are supposed to inform grandchildren about proper behavior and sexual matters.

Children cease sleeping in their mother's house when they are still very young. After the age of 8, boys gradually start to sleep in a special house for unmarried sons. After initiation, at the age of 10 or 11, a son cannot sleep in his mother's house at all. At the age of 6, a girl starts to sleep either in the house of one of her mother's co-wives or that of her grandmother. Initiated girls must sleep in the house of a postmenopausal woman, usually the paternal grandmother.

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