Selepet - Marriage and the Family

Marriage. Marriages are generally arranged between patrilineal clans with a goal of maintaining a balance in the exchange of women. Formerly the preferred exchange was that of men exchanging sisters. Marriage has been considered final at pregnancy, and today marriage ceremonies in the church are sometimes combined with the baptism of the firstborn. With the coming of peace and greater mobility exchanges now take place without respect for phratry membership, and in some cases they occur between villages, even between people from different linguistic groups. Arranged marriages are less frequent today, because the young men meet potential mates at school or in the cities, and they are able to earn their own bride-payment through outside employment. Such independence has led to an increase in Divorce. Polygamy used to be common, and the number of a man's children were considered to be a direct reflection of his strength. One man with three wives produced a progeny of more than 250 great-grandchildren. The missionaries prohibited polygamy, but with the arrival of nationhood and the nationalization of ecclesiastical authority, some men have ignored the ban.

Domestic Unit. The men and the initiated male youth used to live together in the men's houses, while the married women and children lived in separate residences. Men who were polygamous maintained separate houses for each of their wives with their daughters and uninitiated sons. The trend to monogamy has not significantly influenced this residential pattern, although a married man does sleep more frequently in the home of his wife.

Inheritance. In aboriginal times there was little for one to inherit because the people did not produce durable goods, and the land belonged to the patrilineal clans. What was inheritable were personal adornments such as pigs' tusks, dogs'-teeth headbands, and shell money that figured in the trade system. These items also had the potential of embodying the power of previous owners. The introduction of European commodities has not significantly altered this pattern, because individually purchased items such as radios have a short life span, and larger items such as motor vehicles belong to large social units.

Socialization. Responsibility for raising children is shared by the children's parents, aunts, and uncles. Generally greater permissiveness is common in the raising of young boys. Children learn their roles by working with their parents and, in the case of initiated males, also with their paternal uncles. Young men help in building homes and fences, and they participate in marsupial hunts during times of full moon, when the forest canopy is illuminated. Girls help their mother with gardening, child care, and domestic chores. Male initiation was traditionally the most complex rite of passage; at this time the young men were circumcised, had their earlobes pierced, endured various ordeals such as prolonged fasting, and were shown the religious artifacts. Their maternal uncles also explained the secrets of the male cultic religion. When Christianity was introduced, the initiation ceremonies were replaced with confirmation classes taught by pastors who were not Selepet, thereby weakening the role of the maternal uncle as well as the societal constraints of religion. Today maternal uncles often provide for the educational expenses of their sororal nephews and nieces.

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