Zande - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is normally contracted by payment of bride-wealth. It is virilocal and ideally polygynous, although, in practice, not many men are able to afford more than one wife. Kings and nobles had more wives than other men, many of them of commoner origin; they would occasionally give wives "for nothing" to reward retainers and warriors. Traditional bride-wealth took the form of iron spears; Zande rulers formerly provided their pages and courtiers with spears to enable them to marry, but the Bandia dynasty of the Nzakara seems to have provided wives directly instead. In the 1920s it became easier for young men to marry; they were no longer dependent on their elders for bride-wealth spears but could buy their own with money earned in the service of the European administration. Nowadays most bride-wealth is in cash, although it may also include goats, cloth, sacks of cassava, and so forth. A young man's family usually contributes, but he often scrapes together some of the money himself, and thus has some say in the matter.

Domestic Unit. Within the traditional homestead, each wife had her own sleeping hut for herself and her young children, but the hut of a man's senior wife might be rather better built. Such homesteads are still the rule in villages off the main road. In towns and large villages, administrative and mission influence has resulted in second and subsequent wives often living alone, with only occasional visits from the husband.

Inheritance. The property of commoners, their wives, and any debts or vengeance obligations are inherited by their patrilineal male kin. Competition often arises between representatives of the senior and junior branches of a lineage. It is important to the Zande that organic witchcraft, mangu , may be transmitted by a man to some of his sons and by a woman to some of her daughters.

Socialization. Small children share their mother's life, and girls may do so until marriage, thus learning women's occupations. In precolonial days, many boys served as pages at royal or noble courts. When these courts disappeared, ritual circumcision of pubescent boys in the forest (almost certainly borrowed from neighboring tribes) replaced such service as an initiation into manhood. This tradition has also fallen into disuse.

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