Tonga - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Polygyny is common and may be increasing as farmers marry additional wives to obtain labor for expanded operations. Christians divide on whether monogamy is necessary. Childhood betrothal was abandoned by Plateau Tonga in the 1920s and by Gwembe Tonga in the 1950s. Cross cousins of both types were preferred spouses among Plateau Tonga and in the Gwembe hills, whereas Plains Tonga preferred marriage into the descent groups of their grandfathers. Most marriages linked people of the same village or neighborhood. Marriage today is usually initiated by elopement or when the woman is pregnant. Both damages and marriage payments are required, even in Christian marriages, and their value is steadily inflating. Young couples are initially attached to a relative's homestead; formerly, they did not have the right to their own cooking fire or to make beer for ancestral offerings until several years after marriage. A second wife may be attached to the household of the first wife for the probationary period; thereafter each wife is independent. Couples who begin married life in urban areas usually establish an independent household immediately. Divorce was and is common. Households headed by a single woman are increasingly common, although even early in the twentieth century some women chose to have children by lovers rather then accept a husband's domination. Couples do not hold property in common; upon divorce, each spouse retains his or her assets. Once equitable, this practice now places women at a disadvantage because the property they helped earn can be claimed by the husband. They also lose when widowed because the husband's assets are taken by his kin. Therefore, women try to build up their own assets, which they safeguard by sending to their own kin. Widows are ideally inherited by someone in the husband's descent group, but this practice is increasingly controversial, especially among Christians.

Domestic Unit. Each established wife or senior single woman is expected to cook for herself, her children, and other dependents and to send food to her husband. Women, girls, and very young boys of the homestead eat either together, sharing food, or separately, each woman eating alone with her children. Men and boys of the homestead eat together, sharing the food contributed by all the women. Each woman has her own dwelling. Monogamous women share the dwelling with their husbands; polygynous men move from wife to wife. Only unmarried men have their own houses. Co-wives have separate fields and separate granaries.

Inheritance. As the inheritance council held when the funeral ends, claims are canvassed. The father of the deceased, or his heir, can claim a share in stock and, today, money, but the bulk of the estate goes to matrilineal kin who appoint someone to become the guardian of the new spirit. This person is the primary heir, but stock and other possessions are distributed among a large number of claimants. The heir becomes the ritual parent of any children of the deceased and has claims upon their services and property, including marriage payments for daughters. In the past the preferred heir was of the same or alternate generation. Sons and daughters do not have the right to inherit, but in rural areas they may be given one or more head of cattle, and courts increasingly argue that those who work to increase the wealth of their father should benefit from that labor. Widows may be permitted to retain their fields but can be driven away if they refuse to be inherited.

Socialization. Infants and children are raised by parents and siblings, and frequently by other kin. Grandparents often care for children after divorce. Today children are exchanged between urban and rural areas to work for relatives or to attend school. Training in the past was oriented toward ensuring that children acquired skills essential to rural life; now families urge children to succeed at school so they can get good jobs and provide support to parents and siblings.

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