Mejbrat - Marriage and Family

Marriage. The single most important unit for the Mejbrat subsistence economy is the husband and wife gardening pair, so there is strong societal pressure for all adult males to be married. Polygyny is thought of as the ideal, but it occurs infrequently. The preferred husband will be someone who is both geographically and genealogically distant from the wife-giving group. The wife-giving group, usually represented by the prospective bride's elder brother, selects an appropriate spouse; and the bride-wealth—paid in cloths, meat, fish, palm wine, and physical labor in clearing swiddens, etc.—is negotiated, with most of it to be paid during the course of the Mejbrat feast cycle. Wife givers reciprocate with prestations of lesser value: taro and other garden produce, net bags, and string. Most of the cloths that make up the wife taker's prestation go to the new wife and form the nucleus of the new household's wealth.

Domestic Unit. Mejbrat wives are considered important decision makers and enjoy a high degree of respect within the marital unit for three major reasons: because a wife's gardening labor is very important; because Mejbrat hold that a woman's garden produce belongs to her; and because, with uxorilocal residence, married women live near to close, supportive kin. In the early days of marriage, a young wife will temporarily live with her husband's mother, but the couple quite soon establishes its own household in the area of the wife's father's maternal kin. When children are quite small they live with their parents, but upon attaining the age of initiation a boy will go to live for extended periods of time with his mother's brother and a girl will spend much time in the household of her father's sister. A household proper will consist, therefore, of a husband and wife, their uninitiated Children, and, often, an initiation-age niece or nephew as well.

Inheritance. Access to garden lands follows the maternal line through wives. Other property tends to pass from mother's brother to sister's son and from father's sister to brother's daughter. Esoteric lore is passed along the same lines as movable property, but it is taught rather than inherited.

Socialization. Young children, still living within the natal family, are cared for and disciplined by their mothers. Education in the appropriate skills and lore is the job of the mother's brother (for boys) or the father's sister (for girls). Both sexes undergo initiation under the guidance of the appropriate uncle or aunt.

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