Temiar - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Temiar marriage is characterized by the establishing of wider and highly marked affinal relations, and not just by the cohabitation of the two partners. There is little restriction on sexual relations as such, either before marriage or out of marriage, and a couple may live and sleep together without being regarded as "married." Indeed, there is no special word for "marry" in Temiar: the idea is expressed through a transitive or reciprocal usage of the verb "sleep." Despite this relative openness, senior members of the woman's community (such as her father, brother, or village leader) will usually seek to regularize the union by exacting public avowals from the couple that they will keep together. Some marriage gifts may be given, although there are no formal bride-wealth or dowry requirements.

The first months or years of marriage are usually spent in the wife's community. Thereafter the couple may move to the husband's community, or to any other community that is prepared to let them settle. Roughly half of Temiar couples stay permanently in one community, while the remainder move frequently between different communities. They usually try to occupy their own compartment in a communal house: compartments might contain more than one conjugal family, but only as a temporary expedient.

Relations between husband and wife are expected to be warm, amicable, egalitarian, and based on free will. This is usually the case in practice, for there are few constraints to prevent an aggrieved or dissatisfied partner from simply leaving and ending the marriage. Many Temiar have been married more than once, engaging in what were effectively trial marriages. Spouses work together or in complementary ways in such activities as farming, gathering forest materials, and domestic work.

No rule of marriageability, positive or negative, attaches to the Temiar ramage as a unit. But Temiar frequently say that marriage is forbidden between people born in the same village, even though such marriages are not particularly rare in practice.

Thus several principles act together in guiding the individual Temiar as to whom he or she may marry: (1) degree of residential propinquity; (2) quality and degree of consanguineal relationship; and (3) prior affinal relationship.

Temiar marriage generates a new pattern of relations, not just between husband and wife but also between their relatives. Former "extended" consanguines become close affines—a change that adds a degree of complicatedness to their interaction, for formalized avoidance, joking, or respect relations now apply. Affines of opposite sex are especially constrained by these rules, which also apply (with some dilution) to the siblings and cousins of the affected parties.

Between "spouse's parent" and "child's spouse" of opposite sex, complete avoidance is expected. In contrast, a sexually charged joking relationship holds between opposite-sex siblings-in-law ( mneey ). There is an institutionalized understanding that mneey may have sexual relations with each other if they wish, whether or not they are already married. The few polygamous marriages that occur are almost always between siblings-in-law, usually a man and two sisters.

Domestic Unit. It is usually possible to discern three levels of residential organization within each local community. First is the household, usually a single conjugal family. Second is the household cluster, a grouping of two or more closely related conjugal families who live in adjoining sections of the house, often sharing the same hearth, and usually stay together if they migrate to another village. And third is the village (Temiar, déék, which also means "house"), the total local community, which is usually thought of as a familial grouping too.

Inheritance. Traditionally, the Temiar were so little concerned with inheritance that they buried most of a deceased person's property, including money, along with the corpse. Nowadays, when personal property has come to include such items as electronic goods and permanent housing, this might be expected to change; but no reliable data are available as yet on recent changes. As previously described, the major corporate property consists of seasonal fruit trees. These are inherited by cognatic transmission between whole sibling sets. When a tree is claimed for the first time, it may be individually owned; after the owner's death, it simply becomes one of the corporately owned trees. Inheritance of status is not usually an issue: the senior surviving sibling of the senior generation of siblings is normally recognized as village leader. Where outsiders have intervened by instituting a more formal headmanship, this has tended toward the more patrilineal mode of succession favored by Malay political structures.

Socialization. Child rearing is shared so easily between the parents and other kin that it often seems as if all the villagers were jointly responsible for the care of all the children. Fathers undertake the same care-giving activities as mothers. Mother, father, and child are all bound by the same set of food taboos until the child is safely out of infancy. Children are allowed a great deal of freedom, and discipline is limited to verbal advice or warnings of possible intervention by the thunder deity. Physical punishment or constraint is strongly avoided, even when the child throws a tantrum. This nonviolent approach is absorbed into the child's emerging personality: children may threaten each other in play, but the blows freeze in midair. When they play soccer or other ball games, no teams are formed—they all cooperate in helping one of the players land a goal.

There is little educational or initiatory formality. Childbirth and first-menstruation rituals are private, and weaning is so gradual that even 6-year-olds will be breast-fed if they ask. There are no rites of adulthood. Children are allowed to learn by experimentation, whether it concerns using knives, building rafts, smoking, or having sex. Other matters are explained, as the need arises, by citing the appropriate portion of Temiar mythology.

Nowadays most Temiar children attend government primary schools set up within their own territory. These have achieved basic national-language (Malay) literacy, but little more as yet.

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