Malekula - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Polygyny is still found in Laus and was common in Mewun and Seniang before they were completely missionized. Polyandry also occurred in traditional times among the Mewun. Members of the three groups occasionally intermarry. Substantial bride-wealth is required; in all three groups this can consist of a combination of pigs and cash, though a Laus bride-price is likely to include more pigs than brideprices in Mewun and Seniang. With the current surplus of bachelors, older married men seek to control younger bachelors through their control of marriage choices for young women. In order to marry, most young men must obtain the approval of older men and use either bride-wealth or sister exchange to contract engagements. Postmarital residence is patrilocal. Although women move to their husbands' land when they marry, a widowed woman is almost always required to return to her patrilocality, leaving her children behind with her deceased spouse's relatives. This move, however, may not always involve a change in villages for her. Since mission villages in Mewun and Seniang are composed of several different patrilines, she may simply relocate to a different quadrant of the village and begin to farm the land of her patrilineal relatives. Divorce is illegal and almost absent in South West Bay. The few people who have separated from their spouses have left the bay for either Port Vila or Luganville (Vanuatu's only two cities) where they can form liaisons with new spouses.

Domestic Unit. The basic domestic unit is composed of relatives who share food and eat from a common fire. This may or may not coincide with a dwelling unit or household.

Inheritance. Inheritance is patrilineal. Daughters are given pieces of their fathers' territory to use before marriage and after they become widows. However, this is usually not inherited by their sons.

Socialization. Children are raised to interact with one another peaceably, so it is extremely rare to see children fighting or a parent striking a child. The threat of shame is often employed to ensure correct behavior. Most Mewun and Seniang children go to school until the third grade. While a large percentage finish primary school, only a few progress to secondary school. The district schools were established in the early 1900s by the resident Presbyterian missionary. Before independence, a few children from Mewun and a larger group from Seniang went to a French boarding school in southeastern Malekula. Laus children, for the most part, are not formally educated, although a few attend the mission schools in Mewun.

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