Kwoma - Marriage and Family



Marriage. As with many Papua New Guinea societies, Individual marriages give rise to alliances between groups that endure for up to four generations. Such alliances are made manifest, and defined, by continuing asymmetrical exchanges of food and wealth objects between members of wife-giving and wife-taking lines; food goes to wife-taking lines, wealth (in "payment" for the food) to wife-giving. Members of such lines also exchange a variety of reciprocal economic and Political services, such as assistance in gardening, house building, and, formerly, warfare. The major occasions on which Members of a wife-taking line give wealth to members of a wife-giving line are: at marriage (from the husband to the wife's brother); when the oldest child of the marriage reaches puberty (from the children's father to their mother's brother); and on the deaths of the wife and each child. The death payment for an unmarried girl, like that of a son, goes to the deceased's mother's clan; the death payment for a married woman, like her bride-wealth payment, goes to her natal clan. For the duration of an affinal alliance no further marriages may take place between the same two lines (though they may between other members of the same two clans). This restriction means that marriage is prohibited with a wide range of relatives, thus ensuring that marriages, and hence political alliances, are widely dispersed between clans and villages. Kwoma do not "prescribe" marriage with particular categories of relatives. A person's choice of a spouse should be acceptable to their clan as a whole, and traditionally an individual's first marriage was arranged. Clans corporately participate in the bride-wealth, puberty, and death payments in which their members are involved, either as donors or receivers of wealth. Clans that become too small to make such inter-group prestations independently fuse with other groups and pool their resources. Clans that grow too large for all members to receive a significant share of a bride-wealth or death payment divide into two or more separate clans. Divorce is strongly discouraged, especially during the early years of a marriage when part of the bride-wealth payment would have to be returned, but marriages may legitimately be terminated because of factors such as serious personal incompatibility, abandonment by a spouse, or a man taking an additional wife polygynously without the first wife's approval as convention requires. If a woman dies shortly after she marries, her clansmen may provide a clan sister in her place; when a man dies his widow is strongly encouraged, but cannot be compelled, to marry leviratically.

Domestic Unit. Each family, monogamous or polygynous, owns at least one "sleeping house" (in which men sleep with their wives and their children) and an adjacent kitchen. All sexually mature females in a household have separate hearths in which they do their own cooking. In polygynous Households each wife usually has a separate house, or a walled-off section of a common house. Polygyny is practiced by only a minority of men, usually village seniors, many of whom acquire additional wives as part of the levirate. A woman may agree to her husband taking a second or subsequent wife (e.g., an older brother's widow) only if the marriage remains nonsexual. Younger women prefer to marry monogamously, since sexual jealousy between cowives of childbearing age is common. When sons in a household reach adulthood they normally build houses next to their father's, to which they bring their wives at marriage.

Inheritance. Clans are independent land-holding and Ritual units, and a clan's estate in land and ritual paraphernalia, as well as such intangible property as totemic names and Exchange rights in clan-exogamous females, are inherited by their male members. Out-married clan females are often allocated usufructuary rights in parcels of their clan's land, but they cannot pass these rights to their children. A man's and woman's movable personal property, such as spears, cooking vessels, pets, and transistor radios, is not inherited by a clan member but passes to other groups as part of their death payments.

Socialization. Child rearing is the responsibility of the Parents and older siblings. Emphasis is placed on self-reliance and strength in interpersonal relations but also on awareness of the rights of others. Children learn principally by observing and imitating. By about the age of 10 girls have acquired all of the economic skills a married woman requires to maintain a household, and by the same age boys can perform most routine masculine activities. Traditionally, boys at or near puberty were incarcerated for several weeks in enclosures in which magic was performed on them to encourage their growth and make them skilled hunters, and in which they received intensive instruction in the society's complex dual literature. Each boy was assigned a "ceremonial father" from his clan who looked after him during initiation and became a lifelong ally. Older men commonly underwent a simultaneous period of seclusion during which outstanding big-men instructed them in advanced magical and ritual techniques. Both initiation rites, named "Handapiya" and "Nal" respectively, have effectively now been abandoned. Today, men's initiation takes the form of first participation in one or another of the first two yam harvest ceremonies, "Yena" and "Minja." The sculptures displayed during these rites, though differing in form, both constitute highly condensed symbolic expressions of traditional ideals that men still hold in relation to themselves, principally those of men as hunters of animals and killers of others in warfare, and as creators: hortiCulturally as growers of yams and in human terms as procreatore of children. When novices participate in these ceremonies and gradually acquire familiarity with the hitherto secret sculptures, including the way they are painted and decorated, they begin in earnest to master their community's esoteric knowledge and to inculcate these masculine ideals.

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