Tanna - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Kin terminology reflects the island practice of sister-exchange, bilateral cross-cousin marriage. The ideal marriage partner is a child of one's mother's brother, or father's sister, although many people marry less closely related classificatory cross cousins. The ideal marriage also consists of a sister exchange between two men. Many marriages, in actuality, involve complex transactions in which women are "swapped" among three or more families. Many men obtain a wife by exchanging a classificatory sister or some other female relative. Some promise a firstborn daughter in return for her mother. A concern for balance governs marriage, as it does all other forms of exchange. With sister exchange, every marriage entails another, and divorce is very uncommon. Should a marriage fail, the wife's family must provide the husband's family with another woman in order to maintain the exchange balance.

Domestic Unit. A nuclear family is the basic domestic group that produces and consumes food and other goods. Residence is virilocal. As boys get older, many build their own sleeping houses, although they continue to eat with their parents until they marry.

Inheritance. There are few material goods on Tanna that survive more than one generation. Women inherit little. Men inherit land as well as rights to ritual and medical knowledge from the men who named them, most often their fathers. Men also succeed to the social positions of older namesakes.

Socialization. A child is raised by both parents and, importantly, by older siblings. Disciplining is rarely physical, but rather takes the form of teasing and shaming. Boys are circumcised between 5 and 10 years of age; their emergence from about six weeks of social seclusion is an important ceremonial occasion. Girls' first menstruation is sometimes marked by the gift of pig and kava from their fathers to their mothers' brothers.

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