Wantoat - Marriage and the Family



Marriage. Marriages are generally arranged between participating clans to maintain a balance in the exchange of women. The preferred exchange was by men exchanging sisters. Although marriages were often arranged prior to the girl reaching puberty, the pattern was for postpubescent girls to marry men who were several years older. If a period of premarital residence of the woman with the man's clan proved her acceptability, the families exchanged gifts. Then the couple entered a new house, ceremonially rekindled a fire, and the wife cooked her first meal for her husband. Divorce was rare. Polygamy used to be common, but with the increase of available men due to the cessation of warfare and the prohibition of polygamy by the missionaries, it has largely given way to monogamy. Arranged marriages are less frequent because the youth meet potential mates at school, and the young men are able to earn their own bride-payment through outside employment. Such independence has resulted in an increase in divorce.

Domestic Unit. The men and the initiated male youth used to live together in a men's house, while the women and children lived in separate residences. Men who were polygamous maintained separate houses for their wives, daughters, and uninitiated sons. When not staying with one of their wives, they would join the initiated young men in the men's house. With the trend to monogamy the primary unit has become the nuclear family, and the married men only infrequently move in with the young men.

Inheritance. Since land rights belonged to the clan and the people did not manufacture durable goods, there was little personal inheritance. Shells, pig tusks, and other personal adornments and utensils, however, did have the potential of embodying the power of previous owners. As such these heirlooms were inherited by a man's offspring, primarily his sons.

Socialization. Parents were permissive in raising their children, particular in the case of boys. Children learned their roles by working with their parents. Girls helped their mothers with gardening, child care, and domestic chores. Of all the rites of passage, the most complex was that of male initiation. Boys were initiated by their maternal uncles who explained the religious beliefs and gave them their first taste of yams and pandanus. Thereafter they worked with the men in clearing brush, building structures, and hunting. Adulthood came with marriage. When the missionaries arrived, the initiation ceremonies were replaced with confirmation classes, and the responsibility of teaching was transferred to pastors from outside the Wantoat area. In modern times the maternal uncles often provide for the educational expenses of their sororal nephews and nieces.

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