Zaramo - Marriage and Family

The traditional Zaramo marriage is exogamous, with preference given to cross cousins. Although this pattern is still recognized as the original ideal, it is no longer the preferred model. Zaramo marriage is also polygamous. Traditionally, all wives and children belonged to one man, but the mtala defined his various households. This system, however, is changing because of strong Muslim influence, which stresses the father's authority and patrilineal customs. The Zaramo allow cross-cousin marriages, providing that the spouses do not have the same taboos. This is possible because the taboos are not carried through the mother's clan, but through the father's line. For several reasons, marriages are not lasting. The marital situation is often irregular, and the children do not always live with their biological parents. Kin togetherness and support have always been characteristic of traditional Zaramo society. Even a distant kin member is part of the family and must thus be cared for.

The safe birth of a child is a great event for the family and clan concerned. The Zaramo consider it a special blessing if a girl is born because she will bring bride-wealth to the family and secure continuation of the line. The important phases of a child's life are the first cutting of hair, the giving of a name, and the appearance of the first teeth. The mother is expected to breast-feed her child for at least two years, and she is supposed to abstain from sexual intercourse for six months after the birth of the child. The Zaramo give their children the names of their grandparents. The firstborn girl is named after her grandmother, and the first boy is given the name of the grandfather, following the mother's line. This custom is not only a gesture of respect but also indicates that the newborn child somehow represents the grandparent. Bearing the grandparent's name will bestow that relative's qualities on the child.

Children in Zaramo society normally remain close to their mothers, accompanying them to communal events and festivals. This practice can be seen as a way of educating them on the matters of life around them. Girls, in particular, stay close to their mothers and to other women in the household and soon begin to imitate them. They follow their mothers to the well and balance small tins until they learn to carry large water pots on their heads. The girls learn cooking, start taking their share in hoeing, and try their skill in making hats and braiding their hair. A certain secrecy is maintained with regard to everyday realities, increasing the atmosphere of magic and belief in powers beyond the visible.

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