Suri - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Kinship. Suri always say they belong to a unit called a keno, a word that means "branch" or "stem" and could be translated with the traditional concept of "clan," patrilineally defined. Strict descent is, however, only a loose condition for membership. These "clans" are not territorial units, as their members are found in all the territorial divisions and villages. Within the clans, the Suri see themselves as belonging to lineage groups, with a named, known (great-) grandfather. Their relationship terminology is of the Omaha type: on the mother's side, Ego's male agnates—for example, mother's brothers and their sons—are denoted with the same term; mother's sister is called with the term for "mother." There is strong solidarity among lineage and clan members—at least when they live together in one village; it is manifest at occasions such as marriages, reconciliation ceremonies, and burials.

Marriage. Marriages are possible across keno (clan) lines only. This stricture is carefully observed, although sexual liaisons between members of nominally the same clan (some of them have fissioned in two named halves) do occur. Marriages are usually arranged after the rainy-season dueling contests have ended. At that time, a girl, having watched the contests and selected her favorite duelist, tries to approach the chosen one by indirect messages sent through friends and relatives. In traffic between the two families, the possibility for a marriage alliance is tested. Decisive are, first, the preference of the girl and, second, the amount of bride-wealth (in cattle, small stock, and/or bullets and a rifle) to be paid by the groom's family. After negotiations start, it may take months before agreement is reached. When a deal is clinched, the real wedding ceremony is organized, with beer, song and dance, and the ritual entrance of the girl into the new hut and into the family of the groom. Among the Suri, a marriage implies a multi-stranded alliance between two kin groups. Divorce is rare.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit is basically that of a married wife and her children. She has her own hut, garden, economic activities, and social network. The husband is part of the unit as an added member, so to speak; he usually has to spend his time among various wives. He has no personal hut. He is marginal to most of the activities of this unit: he sleeps and eats in the hut of a wife, keeps personal belongings there, and meets and cares for his children there, but his main responsibilities are herding, guarding, occasionally gold mining, agricultural work, participation in raiding, and public discussions and meetings, all done outside the domestic sphere, and often outside the village. Domestic units are independent. There are no systematic patterns of cooperation between extended kin groups.

Inheritance. As the basic wealth of the Suri is livestock (but now also rifles), the rules and debates around inheritance of the herds is the main preoccupation of kin when an adult person dies, especially when it is a man. There is proportional division of the animals, according to seniority of age of the sons and brothers. Personal property (such as tools, milk containers, decorations, and a dueling outfit) is divided among sons—but not without arguments. The favorite rifle (usually a Kalashnikov or an M-16) goes to the eldest responsible son. Older, nonautomatic rifles go to younger sons, or to brothers or brothers' sons. There is no inheritance of fields. Agricultural implements and other small items are divided among the children who need it. Some livestock and cash are also inherited by wives. Livestock property of deceased women is distributed among her sons and daughters.

Socialization. The Suri push their children—both boys and girls—to be independent and assertive: this is very evident from the games young children play. There is no physical punishment, such as beating or pinching, but much verbal discussion, encouragement, and reprimanding. Children of both sexes learn their respective gender activities by following their parents, older relatives, and peers. From the ages of 6 to 7, children start collective activities (play, gathering of fruits, some herding, drawing water, fetching firewood, grinding) in groups of their own sex. Adolescent males organize ceremonial stick-dueling fights, which are big, all-Suri events. Participation is a must for all maturing males. Suri elders form an age set that the younger people respect. In the domestic sphere, parents are much respected by their children. There is virtually no intergenerational violence, as there is among the Me'en, a closely related Surmic people. Although in the past the Suri had two primary schools, there is now no state school among the Suri, and Suri children do not frequent schools outside their own area. Thus, they are not exposed to much interethnic or out-group social contact. They develop a strong group consciousness and pride, which often results in disdain of all non-Suri groups.


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