Warlpiri - Marriage and Family

Marriage. In the past all first marriages were arranged, often when the girl was young or even before she was born. The average age difference at first marriage was 21 years, with a girl of about 10 marrying a man in his thirties. These age differences are now in sharp decline as are the numbers of arranged marriages. Middle-aged men at present can still expect to have two or three wives in the normal course of events, which is made possible by the delay in men's first marriage, but this is changing rapidly. Permanent, stable unions were the ideal and separation and divorce were comparatively rare; however, because of the age differences between husbands and wives, most women could and can expect to have several husbands over a lifetime and to have more say in whom they marry as they get older. Preferred marriage partners in the past were classificatory second cousins, but more people are now marrying first cousins, and a few are marrying classificatory mother's mother's daughter's sons. In the past, intertribal marriages could result in the couple's living in the wife's tribal territory, but eventually at least the children would be taken back by the father to Warlpiri country.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit is composed of a man, his wife or wives, their unmarried children, and often some elderly dependent, usually one of the couple's parents. Today and in the past, the widowed members of the household will usually sleep in a widows' camp, while the boys age 10 or older will sleep in a single men's camp.

Inheritance. There is little material property to inherit. The senior mother's brother supervises the distribution of his nephews' possessions among his own brothers and of his nieces' possessions among his sisters. He also takes steps to arrange the avenging of the death.

Socialization. While primary socialization takes place in the domestic unit, mothers spend much of their time with co-wives and close female kin, all of whom may act as care givers. All children are indulged; male children in particular have a great deal of freedom. The freedom ends with marriage for girls and at initiation for boys, which involves seclusion and circumcision at about 11-13 years of age.

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