Mam - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditionally, the groom's father initiated marriage negotiations with the prospective bride's father, but Mam children have long had latitude in choosing a spouse. Ideally, the groom, his father, and witnesses to his good character petition the bride's father and present her family with gifts of sweet breads, cigarettes, rum, and at least a nominal—in some towns substantial—payment to compensate for "raising the girl." After sometimes protracted negotiations, the bride moves into her new father-in-law's house. Within a year or so, the marriage will be formalized in the local civil registry, and, if the families are religious, in a church ceremony. Mam men usually marry in their late teens, once they can provide for a family; women marry a year or two younger, once they have mastered weaving and making tortillas. Mam gauge a potential spouse in terms of practical skills and proper character, not physical attractiveness or romantic love.

Domestic Unit. The Mam domestic unit ideally follows a cycle from newly independent nuclear family to an extended family of parents, sons, and their families, then back to a nuclear family as the sons move out, the parents die, and the remaining son inherits the house. Although ideally cooperative and collective, the extended family manifests tensions between fathers and sons over land and between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law over allocation of household resources. The extended family usually, but not always, shares a single hearth and larder.

Inheritance. By Guatemalan law, inheritance is bilateral, although sons often receive more and better land than daughters, whose husbands are expected to provide for them. Formerly, Mam fathers sought to delay inheritance of family lands as long as possible to control their sons' labor, but shrinking landholdings and increasing involvement in the cash economy have weakened patriarchal authority. Today Mam men buy, rather than inherit, much of what land they own.

Socialization. Mam children learn largely by observing and imitating others in the intimacy of one-room houses and close-knit communities. Even intricate tasks such as weaving entail little explicit instruction. Sons begin working in the fields alongside their fathers as soon as they can handle a hoe; young girls assist their mothers at an even earlier age. Although children should attend school through the sixth grade, work at home and in the fields comes first, and few Mam continue beyond primary school.

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