Mendi - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Young people have considerable control over whom they will marry. They generally practice clan exogamy and tend to intermarry with members of neighboring, allied clans. Marriage conventions also discourage lineage "brothers" from marrying lineage "sisters," which diversifies lineage members' exchange partnerships. Weddings involve an extended exchange of wealth between the bride's and groom's kin networks, with more moving from the groom's to the bride's. These prestations are important pretexts for initiating exchange ( twem ) partnerships, a key Mendi social relationship. Postmarital residence is usually virilocal, and polygamy is not uncommon. Divorce can be initiated by the husband or wife, but it may require the return of wedding wealth. Divorced women often take their young children with them, and they are welcomed back into their natal clans.

Domestic Unit. Household size and composition vary. Most include a husband and at least one wife, their children, and often also an elderly widowed parent or an unmarried or divorced sibling of the husband or wife. Persons occasionally live alone.

Inheritance. Fathers are expected to redistribute gardens to their children, and both parents pass on specialized (ritual or gendered) knowledge to them. Parents help sons with bride-wealth.

Socialization. While women and older girls do most of the child care, Mendi men also look after small children. Men not infrequently encourage their 3-and 4-year-old sons to accompany them in the hope that the latter will develop a sense of loyalty. Children may nurse at will, and they often do so past the age of 3. While both mothers and fathers are affectionate and indulgent with their children, they readily use force to discipline them. For their part, children frequently "talk back" to and strike their parents (a trait adults sometimes even encourage). If they feel unfairly treated at home, they may move in temporarily with other relatives (who readily accept them). Young people are encouraged to participate in gift exchange. Mendi are unusual among highlanders for not practicing initiation. Many children attend local community schools; some go on past the sixth year to residential mission or government high schools in Mendi town or elsewhere in the Southern Highlands; and a few have postsecondary educations.

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