Tiwi - Marriage and Family

Marriage. In precontact times—and in some cases today—marriages were arranged by a system of selecting a son-in-law for a young woman at the conclusion of her first-menstruation celebration. The young woman (who, in the past, would already have been married by this time) and her son-in-law are in a reciprocal relationship in which the son-in-law is obliged to "feed" his potential wife's mother, providing her not only food but any goods and services she demands. In return he will receive as wives all daughters born to his mother-in-law prior to their sexual maturity. For each woman, this kind of marriage arrangement generally characterized her first marriage and also often her secondary Marriages to a deceased husband's brother(s) through the Levirate. For the male, this form of marriage was often contracted for well past middle age, as it was the most prestigious and required considerable political acumen and accomplishment. Earlier marriages for men (after the age of 30 or more years) were most frequently to older women, widows of older brothers. Because a woman was usually married to a series of younger men, divorce rarely took place. Changes in the regulation of marriage have occurred since contact. While the actual cohabitation of a young girl with her promised husband is more frequently not taking place, such marriage contracts are still being made. In many of these cases the mother-inlaw/son-in-law relationship still follows the traditional pattern, and the marriage usually conforms to the societal preference for marrying someone in one's father's matrilineal clan—someone who falls into the category of acceptable potential spouses yet who is, at the same time, someone closer in age. There are, however, an increasing number of marriages of Tiwi to non-Tiwi Aboriginals of mixed (Asian or European) background.

Domestic Unit. The precontact domestic unit—a woman, her daughters, her daughters' husbands, and her grandchildren—remains today a viable domestic unit, although monogamy is almost universal. Within the townships there are groups of houses in close proximity to each other that operate as economic units. The modern domestic unit is often under the "direction" of a senior woman as in the past, and all members contribute differentially, from wages, pensions, and foraging activities. Ceremonial activities (dancing and carving) are now monetized, as is gambling (a redistributive institution).

Socialization. The socialization of children is carried out by the entire domestic unit today as in the past. All children attend elementary school in their home community until the sixth grade. Some may continue their schooling at Nguiu, in Darwin, or even farther away from home in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, or Alice Springs. A few Tiwi have gone beyond high school, and in each community there are women and men who have been trained as educators, health workers, or office managers. The annual kulama yam ceremony was the event at which initiation of males and females was finalized. Initiates traditionally participated in six such annual Ceremonies, advancing in rank in each and ultimately reaching senior status as a full initiate between ages 40 and 50. Today, initiation is more often for males (though women attend and participate) and involves only one or two participations. In contrast to practices on the mainland, there is no body scarification or mutilation (circumcision or subincision) in Tiwi male initiation. There is, however, a ritual sequence of body painting and decoration, heavily imbued with symbolic meaning.

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