Ngawbe - Marriage and Family



Marriage. In Ngawbe society, traditional marriage is not simply a union of man and woman; it is the basis of a sociopolitical and economic alliance between two kin groups. Ideally, a symmetrical exchange of women occurs between two kin groups after a series of negotiations between the parents of the respective brides and grooms. Such arranged marriages are less common than in the past, but they still occur. There is no formal wedding ceremony. After a period of time during which the groom visits his wife in her parents' hamlet and provides gifts and labor for his father-in-law, the woman will move to her husband's hamlet. Virilocal residence is the ideal. In cases of nonexchange marriage or when the husband's group is experiencing a shortage of land, the young couple may reside uxorilocally. Polygyny is a male ideal and is quite common. Both sororal and nonsororal forms of polygyny occur. Betrothal of female infants to adult males, said to be common in the past, is now rare. It is often the case, however, that women marry shortly after first menses—at age 12 to 14—whereas men are normally in their twenties before they marry for the first time. First marriages tend to be quite stable, as are polygynous unions in which the women are in the kinship category of "sibling of the same sex" to one another. Nonsororal polygynous unions are less stable, with younger women often leaving their husbands in favor of unions with men closer to their own ages. Both the sororate and the levirate are acknowledged practices but are said to be no longer common. Cousin marriage is prohibited. All first cousins and parallel second cousins are excluded by this proscription; second cross cousins and others may also be excluded, depending on the way kinship terms are applied in particular instances. Members of the older generation claim that traditional forms of marriage are becoming less common, as many young people now marry for love. A quantitative sample taken in the 1960s did not support this claim (Young 1971, chap. 7).

Domestic Unit. The household is the basic unit of production and consumption and may consist of a nuclear family (most common) ; a polygynous family of a man, his wives, and their children; a laterally extended family, usually consisting of two brothers with their respective wives and children; or a lineally extended family, containing members of three or more generations. Larger groups, usually consisting of individuals related either by blood or by marriage, often cooperate in subsistence activities.

Inheritance. Although some personal property is buried with an individual, and the house is abandoned if a person dies in it, houses are generally inherited by the eldest married child who remains in the household. Other personal belongings, including domestic animals, are inherited by the children of the same sex as the deceased. To avoid conflict, cattle are likely to be given to children by elderly parents in anticipation of death.

Socialization. Ngawbe children are normally given considerable freedom during their early childhood years, under the watchful eyes of parents and older siblings. Seldom are they harshly disciplined. At an early age, children of both sexes begin to assist their parents in daily tasks, learning by observation and imitation. Although such assistance is voluntary for boys into their adolescent years, it is generally compulsory for girls from the age of 4 or 5. Most play activities of young children also are imitations of adult activities of the appropriate sex. By late adolescence, children of both sexes are expected to do their parents' bidding without question. At puberty, girls are the focus of a ritual during which older women instruct them in appropriate behavior as wives and daughters-in-law. They are then eligible to marry if they have not already been betrothed. In former times, young males underwent a physically taxing puberty ritual that served to mark their transition from childhood to full adulthood and marriageable status. This ritual apparently has not been performed since the early decades of the twentieth century.


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