Modang - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Kin Groups and Descent. Modang reckon kinship bilaterally, so as to include vertically great-grandparents and colaterally fourth cousins. The personal kindred, however, is not named. It forms a kinship network focused on a young couple or a sibling group, rather than on Ego. No corporate or economic functions are ascribed to this kin grouping aside from the expected solidarity between relatives. Affines are included in the category. Descent is cognatic (ambilateral) and descent lines ( sot ) are linked to apical ancestors of a particular rank. In a village, closely related households constitute clusters of "neighbors/relatives" ( petsah msow/pewellin ), according to the residence pattern. They are established on the principle of kentèp (gripped, squeezed), a taboo that forbids nonrelatives ( lun elap, "other people") to build their houses or to occupy apartments within a longhouse between relatives (affinal or consanguineal kin, especially siblings and cousins). Transgression is punished by supernatural sanction ( ka' kentèp ), which manifests itself as illness, ultimately resulting in death. In practice, these clusters tend to form endogamous units within each row of houses in a community; they show a closer economic and ritual cooperation between their members. Membership in the two named moieties, dya' min, "the lower village," and lon min, "the upper village," is fixed by residence only. In any case the "moieties" are not exogamous; they have a ceremonial function at sowing ( enkuel ). In contrast to the other ranks, the chiefs descent line ( waés ), attached to the great house, is characterized by a segmentation process. Minor descent lines (sot) stemming from this main line form aristocratie descent lines of a lesser rank. This happens by means of hypogamous or hypergamous marriages between aristocrats of a higher status ( hepuy pwun ) and other aristocrats ( hepuy so' ), commoners of various statuses, and even slaves ( megwes, psap ). Very long genealogies (15-20 generations), complete with collateral lines, are memorized by members of the chiefly house or by influential aristocratic women. In relation to rank, matrilateral or patrilateral descent can be stressed by individuals, depending on their ancestors' position, so as to claim preeminence in political or ritual status. For the ruling strata, however, patrilateral line or the "head of the post" ( du' jehoè ) is considered superior to the matrilateral line, the "middle of the post" ( welguak jehoè ).

Marriage. According to the hierarchy of rank, bride-price is graded for the chiefs (higher aristocrats), the lesser aristocrats, and the commoners. Formerly the traditional wealth objects and heirlooms, like gongs, jars, old beads, swords, etc., were used. Today these have been replaced by cash payments of different sums. But some items (china plates, swords, cloth) are still available. Bride-price is given to the bride's family on two separate occasions. Postmarital residence (ngeyen) is uxorilocal, but some couples practice alternating uxorilocal and virilocal residence. Neolocal residence, following the birth of children, is becoming more common. The chiefs usually establish virilocal residence, often after an initial uxorilocal period. There have been reports of polygyny among the chiefs. Marriage prohibitions are restricted to first- and second-cousin marriages and those between relatives in two successive generations, such as uncle and niece.

Domestic Unit. The household (msow) is the only corporate grouping of Modang society. It is a production and consumption unit; each household owns a separate rice barn ( pèa plaè ). In theory it is an everlasting entity, but after three or four generations some domestic units become extinct ( pe'us ). When longhouses were the dominant housing type, the stem family was the norm; now the nuclear family is a major type (one-third of the sample in Bèn Has, the village studied). On average, family size was found to be five persons. The household is also a ritual unit that can be subject to taboos (pli'), thus closing it to nonmembers. As a rule, birth, marriage, incorporation, and adoption create membership for the household. Partition of the "original household" ( msow un ) occurs at a slow rate.


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