Marriage. Kin are favored as marriage partners. Exceptions are the children of brothers and those nursed by the same mother or nursemaid. Marriage is either parentally arranged or initiated by elopement or abduction. Arranged marriages are the ideal, but elopement is frequent. Marriage negotiations are normally set in motion by the man's family, often with the help of a go-between. After a proposal is accepted, the bride's father designates one of his kinsmen to act as his daughter's guardian ( wakil ). The man chosen formally receives bride-wealth from the groom's family and represents the woman's side during the wedding ceremony. The religious component of the rite is conducted by an imam. Weddings usually take place in the guardian's house, to which the couple is conducted in separate ceremonial processions, often with music and dancing. Divorce is frequent during the first two or three years of marriage and remarriage is relatively easy for both partners. After that, divorce tends to be infrequent. Following marriage, a couple is expected to set up its own household within two or three years, except for one child, usually the youngest, who normally remains to look after the parental couple in their old age. New houses are generally built close to the natal household of the bride. Polygyny is permitted but infrequent.
Domestic Unit. Domestic organization is variable. Among boat-dwelling groups, each boat typically shelters a nuclear family, plus often one or two additional kin, averaging, in all, five or six persons. Here the family is both a domestic group and an independent economic unit. Among groups whose members divide their time between village residence and dispersal at sea, domestic organization is characteristically complex. While the nuclear family functions independently at sea, its members are frequently incorporated, upon their return to the village, into larger, multifamily households. The members of these larger groups share a common hearth, meals, and residence within a single village pile house; they are identified by name with its owner, as his tindug (followers). Among settled, shore- and land-based groups, households are often large. Although the majority are reported to contain a single stem or nuclear family, larger groups, consisting of the families of two or more married siblings, are not uncommon. Each household has an acknowledged head. The latter, usually the house owner, is most often a man still actively engaged in making a living.
Inheritance. Inheritance is generally bilateral. Many forms of property, however, are associated through their use with one sex or the other. Such property ordinarily passes from father to son, or from mother to daughter. Examples of traditional male property are cattle, farmland, suspended gongs, and fishing boats; female property includes household furnishings, cooking utensils, jewelry, and kulintangan (stationary gongs). In addition, the Bajau distinguish between property acquired in the course of marriage and property inherited separately, to which the owner's spouse acquires no claim.
Socialization. Preadolescent children traditionally undergo ritual haircutting ( maggunting ), followed by prayers, weighing ( magtimbang ), and a public distribution of foodstuffs. At puberty boys are circumcised, while in most communities girls undergo partial clitoridectomy between the ages of 2 and 6. Unlike male circumcision, the latter is a small private rite witnessed only by women. For one or two years, most children receive a course of Koranic instruction. Those who complete their studies undergo a "graduation" ceremony ( magtammat ) sponsored by their parents. Today, in addition, most children attend public school, although few complete more than three or four years of primary education.