Boruca, Bribri, and Cabécar - Marriage and Family



Marriage. Among the Boruca, marriages take place in the Catholic church, but common-law unions are very frequent. Monogamy is the rule, but separations are also frequent. Legal divorce is rare, not shameful, but not expected. A young man who wants to get married speaks to his—and the girl's—parents. The two sets of parents decide whether the couple should be married by the Church or live in a common-law union. Neolocal residence is preferred.

The Bribri-Cabécar tend to follow native custom, but some marry in the Catholic or Protestant churches to which they belong. In native custom, although the couple may have agreed to the marriage on their own, outwardly the two sets of parents decide, the male taking the matter to them. Mothers or grandmothers of the girl may have a great deal of influence on the decision. The son-in-law comes to live with the bride's parents for some time; neolocality may follow the initial matrilocal or uxorilocal residence. Sororal polygyny may still be observed. Separations are easy. In all three groups, either parent, or a relative of either parent, may take care of the children in case of a separation. If there is a custody conflict or child-support claim, the matter may be referred to the Costa Rican courts.

Domestic Unit. In the Boruca language, the word for family corresponds to the household. Nuclear families are common; other arrangements are the extended, one-parent, and brother-sister households. Many families include unmarried grown daughters with offspring. Among the Bribri-Cabécar, extended households, with people related through the female line are common, but other arrangements, especially nuclear ones, are also observed. In all three groups, older people are generally invited into the households if they are not able to support themselves.

Inheritance. Women's possessions are usually passed on to daughters or uterine nieces and men's possessions to sons (among the Boruca) or to sons and uterine nephews (among the Bribri-Cabécar). Borucan women do not usually inherit land; it is transferred to the husband when the woman marries. In the 1970s, in the main village of Boruca, in six out of seventy-nine households, women had inherited land from their mothers. Female inheritance of land was expected to become more common. Among the Bribri-Cabécar, in the traditional system, women and men inherited from mothers and mother's bothers. It is becoming more common for males to leave property to their children and not to their sisters' children. Disputes taken to courts are solved according to Costa Rican inheritance laws.

Socialization. The Boruca often prefer male children to girls. By age 4, girls may begin to take care of younger sisters when their mothers or grandmothers are not present. Girls will be reprimanded if they leave their sisters alone. When a girl reaches the age of 11 to 14, and she wants to be with boys and not with her little sister, a family problem arises, but parents are not harsh; they expect the girl to become more mature as time goes by. The older son always takes care of his younger brother. Brothers are usually cordial to each other. Children are instructed in sex from the age of 6, when they are told not to let anyone touch them in the genital area. When children are alone, they sometimes experiment with each other, in a playful manner. The majority of newborn children are baptized when the priest arrives at the villages. When people are older, they are usually called by nicknames. At age 6 or 7, the child is considered responsible enough to go to the store on errands. Children learn songs from age 3 onward and play different games. Guidance is given in regard to toilet training, manners, dressing, and responsibility to the family.

Bribri-Cabécar children are welcome, and children of relatives are easily adopted, but, as with the Boruca, the traditional preference may have been for small families. The three groups have knowledge of methods to provoke miscarriage or to prevent pregnancy for defined periods. In the Bribri-Cabécar culture, children were not formally named. The mother assigned nicknames for family use; outsiders referred to people by clan names and kinship terms. Brother-sister avoidance rules are still enforced. From about the 1940s to the 1970s, the people learned to follow Spanish rules for first and last names and to register the newborn according to Costa Rican law. Children's birthdays are celebrated. They are given duties at early ages. Most of their games are imitations of adult roles. Children of the three groups can attend grade schools from age 7 until six grades have been completed, but some drop out. There are scholarship programs that benefit some of the youngsters who go on to high schools or to the universities; others are supported by their own families for these later studies. Adults often attend short training courses in agriculture, crafts, health, community development, and so forth.


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