Pende - Marriage and Family



Traditionally, polygyny was practiced on a limited basis (three or four wives), and men generally added an inherited wife as they grew older. Marriage was concluded without the remittance of assets, but the prospective groom did bring a calabash of palm wine to the father of the girl, whereupon the marriage was concluded on the spot. When outside influences changed this practice to the extent that Pende women could relocate to distant places and be lost to their families, payment of assets was introduced. At the same time, the missionaries, convinced that the payment of assets was an essential element and a factor of stability in Bantu marriage, required evidence of such payment before any celebration could be held. The Pende say, therefore, that the payment of assets was introduced by the missionaries, although in fact several factors played a part.

For the Pende, the child comes entirely from the father; the mother receives from him the seed that she carries and nourishes, just as the earth nourishes the seeds that it receives. The child's gratitude accrues to her only because of "the weight of the belly and the birth pains." It would be a grave offense to say that a child resembles his or her uterine uncle, an allusion that implies incest between the mother and her brother; the child necessarily resembles its father. At present, great importance is attached to the education of children, including girls, and fathers are inclined to consent to the heavy sacrifices that are involved. Having invested thus in educating their children, the fathers have the final say about everything the children do. Their authority increases, and, reciprocally, so does the attachment of their children to them. Land rights are always inherited from the maternal side, however.

Preferential union (i.e., union between relatives) is traditionally called marriage "at home," gu mujiba, contrasted with marriage "abroad," gu balakaji. A father has the right to order his son to take a wife from his own lineage "to give back his face to his lineage." A father's sister often wants her brother's son to marry one of her daughters, whom she has presented to him from his youngest age on as "your little wife." A boy finds it still more dangerous to displease her than to displease his father. Her authority is as great and her curse more to be feared than that of his own father. Refusal brings imminent penalty. From another point of view, the father and the uterine uncle have the duty of procuring a wife for their son or nephew. A young man has first to make application to his father: "Father, give me a wife from behind your back," that is, a wife of your lineage. Or he might address his uterine uncle, asking him for one of his descendants. A widower grandfather could require that he be given one of his granddaughters—not only a classificatory granddaughter but even his own granddaughter.


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