East Indians in Trinidad - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages were for the most part arranged; dating or other association between unmarried and unrelated boys and girls was condemned by almost all East Indians as late as the mid-twentieth century. Increasingly, however, young people were demanding their right to "free choice" (which meant, in practice, the right to see the prospective spouse at least once before the marriage, along with a right of refusal). Throughout Trinidad, instances of young people marrying without parental permission and ignoring caste and other restrictions increased, and by the 1980s dating had become acceptable throughout the island. Today caste identification has become irrelevant (except for some Brahmans), and marriage with Europeans has become acceptable, but many Indo-Trinidadians, particularly in the rural areas, still disapprove of marriage with Afro-Trinidadians.

Domestic Unit. For many of the higher-ranked castes, the patrilineal joint family (i.e., married brothers and their families sharing the same household) was the ideal social unit; others preferred the nuclear-family household. Both were present in the new settlements, but by the second half of the twentieth century the nuclear-family household had become the predominant pattern among Indo-Trinidadians.

Inheritance. Traditionally, male children expected—and indeed, for the most part, still expect—to inherit most of the parental property, dividing it equally among themselves. The biggest problem concerning inheritance derived from the fact that until 1945 marriages performed by Hindu priests were not legally recognized. An unscrupulous brother of a deceased East Indian could therefore claim to be the only "legal" heir, thus disinheriting the "illegitimate" children.

Socialization. Both mothers and fathers invariably preferred sons to daughters. In the event of divorce or other family breakup, children were often claimed by the parents of the father. Weaning was late, often delayed until the children were almost of school age, and all members of the family contributed to the warmth and easy discipline of the early years. Physical punishment, particularly of small children, was rarely resorted to by East Indians. Girls stayed close to home, discouraged even from going alone to a nearby shop, and restrictions increased as they reached puberty. Boys had much more freedom. Although some families encouraged education for sons and even daughters, for most East Indian children before the oil boom, adolescence meant early marriage for girls and an introduction to cane cutting or other employment for boys.

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