Tigray - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages are monogamous and "contractual." First marriages involve a dowry, usually of animals, given by the bride's family to the couple. Second marriages usually require equal contributions from both parties. Should the potential wife not have capital comparable to her potential husband's, an arrangement is made in which she is "paid" and her accumulated shares are eventually converted into community property. Only older couples and deacons intending to become priests are married before the church. The "life expectancy" of a marriage at the time it is contracted is between seven and twelve years. Marriage contracts incorporate the potential of divorce. At marriage, a guardian is selected to help reconcile difficulties and to aid in division of property in case of divorce. Elders are called in to oversee the process. After the wedding, for a first marriage, there is a period of bride-service during which the couple goes back and forth between the two parental households, spending time in each. Once bride-service has been completed, there is no formal rule of postmarital residence. Practical considerations of joint herding often lead to a period of viripatrilocal residence.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the most common domestic unit. Youngest children may remain with the family homestead to take care of aging parents. A small number of economically successful households retain their own sons and daughters and draw in their mates, thus forming large multifamily households. Partition takes place in stages: separation of hearths, separation of grain bins, and final separation.

Inheritance. Inheritance rules distinguish between land and household property. If the parish is ristî, each child, regardless of gender or marital status, inherits an equal share of the land of his or her dead parent. Domestic equipment tends to remain with the child who took care of the aging parent. Other property (principally livestock), if not consumed in the funeral commemoration a year after death, may be divided.

Socialization. Small children are indulged, particularly boys. Girls begin helping their mothers earlier than boys begin helping their fathers. Girls gradually take on domestic chores. At about age 7, boys must begin to learn to obey, which involves a period of apparent trauma. Children are baptized. A series of vertical scars to the outside of either eye, found on most adults, is regarded as "medicinal" rather than "ritual" and is done on the occasion of eye infections. A cross is often made by tattoo or scarification in the middle of the forehead. Movement from minority to adulthood is not dramatic. Boys move to the adult part of the parish meeting when they become married or when they become deacons. Women tend to act in political contexts only in the absence of their husbands but have the rights of jural majors after marriage.

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