Lahu - Marriage and Family



Marriage. Marital unions, invariably monogamous, result from a period of courtship with minimal parental interference. Once a couple decides to marry, a go-between formally initiates negotiations between the two families. Prospective mates should not be too close; Lahu Nyi say "people related within three generations must not marry." The preference for cross-cousin marriage, common among Yi-speaking peoples, seems limited to Lahu Shi and Sheh Leh. First marriages tend to be contracted when boys are about 16 or 17 and girls 13 or 14. Wedding rites vary from one Lahu division to the next but are comparatively simple, usually involving a communal feast and the ritual participation of the village headman, priest, and elders. Christian weddings are probably the most elaborate in ritual terms. Postmarital residence is generally uxorilocal, at least initially. The groom offers bride-service to his father-in-law's household before returning with his spouse and offspring for a shorter service period in his own parental home. There is much flexibility in these arrangements, money sometimes being paid in lieu of service. Setting up an independent household, frequently in the wife's parental village, is the ultimate aim of most Lahu couples. A youngest or only child, especially if a daughter, is likely to remain permanently at home to care for the parents in their old age. Divorce (except among some Christians) is frequent and easily obtained, particularly before the birth of children. The village headman levies fines on both parties, with the side that has initiated the proceedings paying double. A short ritual publicly severs the marital bond.

Domestic Unit. The household, either nuclear and sharing one hearth, or extended with married children having their own apartments and hearths, is the basic unit of Lahu village society. Rice swiddens, livestock, food supplies, and jewelry are held by the household head on behalf of his whole household. Economic and ritual responsibilities as well as benefits are distributed among households, not individuals. The household head and his wife are jointly in charge of the domestic unit.

Inheritance. Rules for the inheritance of property can be quite complex. Among Lahu Nyi indivisible property is proportioned equally between the household and the deceased spouse's immediate nonresident relatives: parents, siblings, and children.

Socialization. The household is the principal socializing unit, with parents and siblings intimately involved. Infants and young children are treated with indulgence, seldom receiving more than a verbal reprimand. By the age of 5 or 6, girls begin to take on simple domestic chores; by 8 or 9, both boys and girls help in the fields and care for younger siblings. By their early teens, Lahu children are more or less fully socialized into adult life.


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