North Alaskan Eskimos - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditionally, incest prohibitions applied absolutely to siblings, strongly to first cousins, and rather weakly beyond that. Parents attempted to control, and certainly to influence, their children's choice of a spouse, but there was no institutionalized betrothal system. Monogamy predominated, with polygyny practiced by a few wealthy men, most of whom had two wives, but a few of whom had as many as five. Polyandry was permitted, but was extremely rare. Postmarital residence was bilocal. Divorce was common, especially during the early years of adult life. It could be effected by either party.

Domestic Unit. A household could consist of a single conjugal family, but usually comprised two or more conjugal families connected by sibling or cousin ties reckoned through either the female or male lines, or both. Adjacent houses were usually occupied by people who were closely related and often were connected to one another by tunnels or passageways, the whole being a single economic and political unit managed by the family head and his wife. Three-generation households were common. This general pattern prevailed until the late 1960s, after which the population increase and the imposition of the U.S. system of land ownership and of clearly bounded property lines in the villages made it difficult to perpetuate.

Inheritance. Individually owned movable property was buried with the deceased. Houses, boats, and other items owned by the family as a whole continued to be used by the surviving members of that family.

Socialization. Traditionally, the ratio of adults to children was high, and children received a great deal of individual attention and supervision. Discipline was permissive. Children were encouraged to learn by a combination of admonition, example, and especially practice. The traditional approach is still preferred in native households. As the ratio of children to adults increased in the twentieth century, however, it became less effective because there were too many children to look after with the same level of care. Jobs now take one or more parents out of the house for several hours each day, and much socialization takes place outside the family context, primarily in schools.

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