Semang - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Semang generally choose their own spouses; parents have little influence. Most Semang prohibit marriage between traceably related consanguines or affines. In theory the prospective husband should ask the girl's parents for permission, but this does not always happen. The marriage "ceremony" may consist only of the couple setting up a household together. Often the couple holds a small feast. Some groups expect the groom to give gifts, usually trade goods, to the wife's parents, and the wife to give handmade items to the groom's parents. Horticultural groups expect a new husband to perform bride-service for a year or two, helping in the wife's parents' garden. Polygyny and polyandry are permitted but rare. There is no fixed postmarital residence rule. If the bride is young, the couple may stay near her parents until she feels secure. Later they may alternate between the camps of the parents or camp apart from them. Horticultural groups expect the couple to settle with the bride's parents during the bride-service year(s). But most groups prohibit physical contact between opposite-sex affines and postpubescent consanguines.

The acceptability of divorce varies (Batèk Nòng prohibit it), but it occurs in most groups, especially among young couples without children. Either spouse can initiate divorce, which is accomplished by moving out of the joint shelter. Some divorces are acrimonious, but it is not unusual for former spouses, both remarried, to live amiably in the same camp. Prohibitions between in-laws continue even after a couple divorces. Young children of divorced couples usually stay with the mother; older children make their own choices and often alternate between parents. Stepparents usually treat the spouse's children like their own.

Domestic Unit. The family shelter houses parents and their preadolescent children. Adolescent daughters sleep in an extension or share a separate shelter with other girls. Adolescent boys usually share separate lean-tos. Western Semang tunnel-houses provide contiguous housing for conjugal family units. Occasionally more than one family in a settled group will share a Malay-style house, but each family has its own section and cooking fire.

Inheritance. Principles of inheritance of personal possessions vary. Among the Batèk Dè', personal possessions go to the surviving spouse, if there is one, who may distribute some of them to the children. Some personal items are left on or in the grave. Among the Western Semang, ownership of poison and fruit trees passes to the deceased's children of both sexes.

Socialization. Both parents look after their offspring from earliest childhood, although mothers spend more time with them, especially when they are still nursing. Children learn most skills and social norms casually, by observation and practice, often in play groups of mixed ages and sexes. Children have great freedom; corporal punishment is rare. Parents teach adolescents complicated skills such as pandanus weaving or blowpipe hunting.

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