Asmat - Marriage and Family

Marriage. In principle, marriage is yew-endogamous and aypim-exogamous. Strict incest prohibitions only cover the nuclear family. Bride-price, provided by the groom in installments, traditionally consisted of such items as stone axes, bird of paradise feathers, and triton shells. Tobacco and small Western goods now are being included. Polygamy continues to be practiced by a few of the most prestigious males, although governmental and mission pressure against it has been intense. Similar pressure has been exerted against the practice of papis. While not a common occurrence, divorce does take place. Occasionally it is precipitated (in Polygamous households) by interwife tensions, but more often it is caused (in monogamous as well as polygamous households) by problems between husband and wife. Some wives cite physical abuse as the primary cause. Some husbands cite inadequate cooking skills. A woman's return to her original yew and aypim signifies divorce; there is no formal ritual.

Domestic Unit. At marriage a woman becomes more closely affiliated with her husband's aypim, and takes up Residence there. Individual houses are built, occupied, and maintained by extended families in the vicinity of the men's house. The informal adoption of children, even those whose parents remain viable members of the same village, is relatively Common. This is perceived to be a means of maintaining "yew balance."

Inheritance. Certain important ritual items, such as bipane "shell nosepieces," are heritable. Principles of primogeniture do not pertain. Of primary importance are songs and song cycles, which can be inherited by a soarmacipits a "male song leader," a soarmacuwut, a "female song leader," or other yew leaders. Leadership positions per se are not heritable, but they tend to run in families.

Socialization. The primary responsibility for child rearing rests with female members of the extended family. Apart from socialization occurring through government- or mission-run school programs, most takes place through informal extended family and yew contexts.

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