Huichol - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditional marriages are bilateral, between first cousins, and arranged by parents when children are very young. When they reach puberty, they are wed. Women generally share equally in this decision making. Presently marriages frequently occur between more distant kin; however, it is preferred that the spouse be from the same temple district, or at least from the same community. The union of the couple does not include the joining of economic assets; women and men maintain their own property separately, especially cattle and other livestock. Polygynous marriages are more common in some communities; however, this practice appears to be gaining popularity in others as well. Postmarital residence for the first year is at the rancho of the wife's family. Afterwards, the couple decide in which family rancho they will eventually build their own house. If either one of the couple is the oldest or youngest of the family, they will reside in his or her family's rancho. Divorce, although discouraged, is permissible, especially in cases of excessive cruelty. If family members cannot reconcile the couple through mediation, the matter will go before the governor of the community for his decision. Remarriage is less formal: the two families involved are consulted and if they are in agreement the couple starts living together.

Domestic Unit. The rancho consists of a number of nuclear-family households that usually form an extended family spanning three to four generations, along with sons-in-law, grandchildren, and widowed or divorced adults, who are most likely women. The elder is the decision maker of the group and also represents the family at the community-wide level. Although the elder is usually male, an older female can also hold this position. The family's shrine (xiriki) is located in the rancho of its oldest living elder. Occasionally aunts, uncles, cousins, or godchildren visit and even live at the rancho for extended periods.

Inheritance. Parents begin to pass on their inheritance to children while they are still living. From an early age, offspring start receiving gifts of cattle, horses, mules, donkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and turkeys. In some communities, inheritance may be patrilateral. The eldest and youngest usually receive the largest amount of the wealth and property of the deceased parent. They also inherit the primary responsibilty for fulfilling the temple, government, and church cargos previously held by their parents.

Socialization. Children are the center of attention, and all family members help in caring for them. Both the mother and father are major figures in child rearing; however, grandparents have a special relationship with their children's offspring. Shortly after birth, children are named by a grandparent or shaman. If a child falls seriously ill, he or she will receive an additional name. Every year for the first five years, children, with the help of their parents, are the major participants in the harvest ceremony, Tatei Neixra. Upon reaching 5 years of age, they are considered complete human beings. Education is informal and nonformal, most of it taking place in the rancho setting among adults and older children, as well as in the ceremonies, deer hunts, and pilgrimages. Children who follow the path of becoming a shaman, master musician, or artist learn from family members proficient in these areas. Some Huichol children attend bilingual government schools in their communities or Catholic missionary schools. When a girl reaches puberty, she has usually mastered the basic embroidery and backstrap-weaving techniques, which she visually displays to mark her intitiation into womanhood. With her first menses, a lock of hair is cut to symbolize this passage.

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