Batak - Marriage and Family

Marriage. As noted, the ideal marriage involves a young man and a young woman from two linked lineages that have a long-standing alliance relationship. In practice, many marriages forge bonds between lineages with no previous alliance; that situation is usually accepted as a means "to widen the sphere of kin-term usage" and to provide more alliance partners for support. When families are conforming to the ideal, however, a man would marry his exact mother's brother's daughter. This marriage would repeat the marriage his father made in the previous generation: both the older man and his son would have obtained brides from the same house in the same traditional wife-giver lineage. Elaborate gift exchange accompanies marriage in many subsocieties. The bride brings ritual textiles and various foods (identified with femininity) to her new house, while the bridegroom's family gives countergifts of bride-wealth payments, jewelry, and livestock. Such exchange is conceptualized as part of a complementary opposition scheme in which wife givers and wife receivers work together to produce a fertile marriage, which in turn empowers the village. Residence is ideally with or near the new husband's parents for several years, after which the new couple formally split off to set up their own household. In prenational times some areas such as Karo and Toba had large, multifamily houses, with a full complement of wife givers and wife takers. Lower-class people never had such large and complex houses. Divorce, much discouraged in the adat oratory, is possible under Islamic law and Indonesian civil law. For wealthier families, given the fact that marriage alliance carries so many larger political implications, divorce is shameful. When Batak migrant men marry women from other, non-Batak ethnic groups, a new bride is sometimes adopted into a lineage as her groom's mother's brother's daughter.

Domestic Unit. There are several household types: (1) older married couples living with married sons and their other unmarried children; (2) new couples just separated from such parental households; (3) young married couples with children; and (4) older couples with several unmarried relatives sharing the same house. Many migrants from the cities move back to their home villages temporarily and live with relatives, so household structure is extremely fluid. Multifamily wife giver/wife receiver "complete" households have been rare in recent decades.

Inheritance. Sacred property such as old rice land, lineage heirlooms, and the ancestral house should pass down the patriline, whereas bride-wealth goods circulate among houses linked through marriage alliance. Daughters can obtain rice land as bridal gifts from their fathers. In some areas, the eldest son and the youngest son get the larger share of heritable goods, and the youngest son and his wife are obligated to care for his aged parents.

Socialization. Attendance at public school or at Muslim school is compulsory and dominates children's lives today. The national schools stress Indonesian patriotism and "modern values." At home, older siblings have a large role in the care of younger brothers and sisters, frequently carrying them around in tight cloth slings. Young children are rarely scolded or even reprimanded; children are cajoled into obeying with small food or cash gifts.

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