Chuj - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditionally, Chuj marriages are arranged. In the ideal courtship pattern, a youth finds a girl whom he might like; he contrives to speak with her, usually at communal water sources or along paths to washing places. If she agrees to see him, she finagles opportunities to meet him briefly by asking her parents for legitimate tasks that will take her out of the home (i.e., fetching water, going to market, washing clothes, going to school). When the young man feels he can start a household, he approaches his parents. If they approve of the girl, they take over the negotiations for the marriage. They find spokespersons to go with them to the girl's family; the girl's family may receive the visitors or not. If they reject the first visit, emissaries may set up a second visit. In subsequent visits (ideally there are three in all), the parents discuss what each spouse will bring to the marriage and what compensation will be given the bride's parents. If the groom is poor, he may work for the parents a stipulated amount of time, before or after the marriage. In extreme cases, the groom may join the uxoral compound. After the third visit, the groom's family brings the stipulated gifts to the bride's family and provides a feast for the two families and guests. There are public instructions given to the bride and groom, and they then take up their new residence. These proceedings may also include a civil service in the municipal building and/or a religious service in the church. Church weddings are relatively rare, owing to the cost of paying for the priest and the infrequency of his visits.

A second major marriage mechanism is bride-theft. Once a young man has selected a bride, he may try to carry her off rather than formally petition for her hand. He is especially likely to try this if he cannot afford a bride-price, if he suspects her family will not receive his family's visits, or if the girl seems reluctant to wed. If the girl really is opposed, bride-theft is difficult, given that the man would have to physically carry her away from public space. When such thefts are attempted, neighbors typically come out and scold the couple, until someone from the girl's family comes to escort her home. In cases where the girl allows herself to be carried off, or when the young man has friends who help with the abduction, the couple goes to a hut in the hills. The young man, leaving the girl "locked" in, then goes to his parents and enlists their aid in regularizing the relationship. They enlist a spokescouple to approach the girl's family. Sometimes they are successful in arranging a low bride-price or a short work stint, given the de facto union already realized; sometimes the girl's family refuses to bargain, and the male members of the family try to bring her back; at other times, the de facto unions continue with no financial arrangements negotiated.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the smallest domestic unit. The members typically share a patio with the husband's brothers and parents. In this compound, childcare duties are shared; the women sometimes work together. Planting and harvesting are often shared among members of a compound, or by other siblings living beyond the pale. Farm work can also be shared outside the family unit, on a reciprocal-work basis.

Inheritance. Inheritance is bilateral. Land and material goods should be bequeathed to all siblings; however, there is a tendency to favor the first son. He and some older siblings may be given land and goods before the death of the parents and may then also share in the posthumous redistribution.

Socialization. In the child's first year of life, a "leg-spreading" ceremony is held, which prepares the child ritually for her or his gender role. At the hearth, the mother sets the child across her hip, with one leg over her stomach, one across her back, "legs spread." At the same time, the parents place a small hoe or planting stick in the hands of a boy child, while instructing him on his future occupation as a farmer. They give a little girl a small spindle or a mortar and instruct her on her life as a housewife. Children play in the house compound with their siblings and cousins; older children watch over the younger children as they play with them and are often called upon by the adults to help with chores. Young boys go out to the fields with their fathers once they can walk the distance on their own.

There are now government schools in each town. San Mateo has six grades; San Sebastián and Nentón have three. For education beyond that available locally, children must leave their homes. Even though many students in these boarding schools are Indians, the schools punish native language use and consciously try to shame students into dressing and acting like non-Indians. The schoolbooks, which are standardized nationally, depict the Indian culture as a hindrance to modernity, and the Classic Mayan florescence is passed over lightly. Emphasis is placed on the supposed nudity of the Indian populace at contact and the alleged stupidity of the K'iche' war leader, Tekun Umán, for believing Pedro de Alvarado's horse to be part of the man, and being killed before he could strike at the actual Spanish chieftain. Sistema Integral de Mejoramiento y Adecuación Curricular (Integral System for Curricular Improvement and Adaptation, SIMAC) is a Ministry of Education agency charged with the responsibility of developing educational programs that reflect Indian culture and history positively. Teachers are to be provided manuals for each of twenty-one Mayan topics such as astronomy, social structure, sports and games, and mathematics from the earliest Mayan records through modern vigesimal systems now in use, and are to find ways to incorporate these topics into the curriculum in the absence of texts for the students to read. These programs have not yet been introduced. Indian children leave the government schools with low self-esteem and low expectations for career opportunities as long as they retain their ethnic identity.

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