Goodenough Island - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Postmarital residence is patrivirilocal, which ensures a core of male agnates in each hamlet. Marriage is forbidden within father's and mother's clans. There are no preferential rules, though certain matches are favored: between exchange partners and between distant cognatic kin traced through outmarrying women. Infant betrothal used to occur, but free choice between partners of the same age is nowadays the norm. Most communities are large enough to sustain local endogamy, and about 85 percent of marriages are Between partners belonging to the same village. Marriage is signaled by the bride and groom sharing their first meal in the boy's parental house. The bride lives there while her husband's kin work her hard to test her endurance; meanwhile the groom performs arduous bride-service for his affines. Exchanges of game, fish, and cooked food legitimate the Marriage soon afterwards, but bride-price payments (of a pig, a few shell valuables, and a sum of money) are nowadays delayed for months or even years. They are eventually given to the bride's unuma for distribution—if the marriage survived the stressful early years. About one in three marriages ends in divorce: the usual complaints are of neglect, laziness, or infidelity. If weaned the children remain with their father, for they belong to his group. Remarriage is simple, though a new husband must repay the first husband his bride-price. Widow remarriage is a more delicate affair, and the new husband must make generous gifts to the dead husband's kin to allay any suspicion of complicity in his death. Monogamy is the norm, but a few instances of polygyny occur in most communities despite eighty years of missionary disapproval of the practice.

Domestic Unit. The household—the basic economic and commensal unit—is usually composed of a married couple and their children, including any they are fostering. Adolescents, widows, and widowers may occupy small houses of their own, though they usually join other households to work and eat.

Inheritance. All property (including magic and clan paraphernalia) is inherited patrilineally. Certain statuses such as exchange partnerships and traditional enemies are also inherited patrilineally, as are a father's exchange debts and credits. An eldest son normally inherits his father's land and trees and items of wealth not disbursed as death payments. This patrimony should be divided among his siblings according to need. Ritual property (magical knowledge in particular) is more jealously guarded and less likely to be shared equally among brothers. If a man is without close agnatic heirs he may choose to transmit his magic (as well as his land or other property) to his sister's sons, though this is apt to cause contention in the following generation. Women can own land, trees, pigs, and some ritual property, though their control or disposal of them is usually subject to the approval of their closest male agnates. As in most Melanesian societies, the dispersal of personal wealth at death prevents the accumulation of inherited wealth which could be converted into rank or class.

Socialization. Infants are breast-fed on demand and weaned fairly abruptly at about two years. Children are frequently handled by parents, grandparents, and older siblings. The mother's brother is also important in a child's upbringing, and makes regular gifts of food with the expectation of being repaid (in cash earnings or bride-wealth) when the child reaches maturity. The children of a hamlet form play groups of peers. From an early age they accompany their Parents to the gardens where they are encouraged to make toy gardens. Although parents are indulgent they readily strike their disobedient children, with an open hand or whatever they happen to be holding. Children are taught early to Control their appetites, though they are permitted, and even encouraged, to chew betel nuts as soon as this desire arises. Traditionally there was no formal initiation of boys or girls, though nowadays school itself serves to weaken a child's bonding to its parents.

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