Zarma - Marriage and Family



Marriage. Polygyny is highly valued among Zarma men, but monogamy is more common statistically, accounting for 70 to 80 percent of all households. The incidence of polygyny is higher among older and wealthier men; it is considered evidence of social success. Residence is patrilocal.

Domestic Unit. The basic domestic social unit is the household ( windi ), which combines the functions of coresidence, production and consumption, and reproduction. It is headed by a male, who also heads one or more of the conjugal families within the household. Wives in polygynous households have individual dwellings within the household compound for themselves and their children. Households clustered together within larger compounds may embrace as many as three generations: the household head, his father's family, and his son's families.

Inheritance. Inheritance is patrilineal among the Zarma. Fathers bequeath their land to their male children, but the absence of primogeniture and the influence of Islamic law contribute to a parceling up of land across generations. A woman inherits land only if she is the sole survivor of a deceased husband or older brother.

Socialization. Zarma parents indulge their children through early childhood, although they do discipline them occasionally. Relations between firstborns and their parents are tempered by a degree of avoidance, an expression of a sense of shame or timidity ( hawi ), which is also expected of the young in their relations with their elders and superiors. This expression is manifest in social interaction as a looking away or down on the part of the younger person who is being addressed. From about 6 years of age, when their potential for using reason and good judgment ( hkkal ) begins to show itself, children are initiated through play and light work into their future gender roles as adults. Children accompany their parents to the fields at sowing time to watch, and they follow along, learn the movements, and help carry seed. Boys are assigned to watch after goats and sheep and to cut grass and branches for fodder. Girls care for younger children, often carrying them on their backs as older women do; they play at pounding millet and sell cola nuts or prepared foods in the village for their mothers. Boys are circumcised at an early age, but circumcision is not a rite of passage, and little is made of it. Girls do not undergo clitoridectomy.

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