Asiatic Eskimos - Marriage and Family



Marriage. The law of exogamy was observed strictly. As a rule, the parents or older relatives would come to an agreement about the marriage, sometimes while the couple were still children or even newborns. The actual marriage included several stages. At the beginning the relatives of the groom would give gifts (tools, hides, other valuables) to the relatives of the bride. Then the young man would perform bride-service in the house of the bride's parents for about one year, taking part in the hunt with the father of the bride and fulfilling all the male economic obligations. Sexual relations between the groom and the bride would usually begin in this period. The young couple would return to the groom's parents' house, after which time the marriage was considered validated; there was no special marriage ceremony. Divorce was similarly informal. Either the woman left or was ordered out of the man's house, and she returned to the house of her parents.

In case of the death of an older brother, his wife became the wife of a younger brother, even if he was already married. Care for the children of the dead brother lay fully on the shoulders of his younger brother and on his clan as a whole.

The Asiatic Eskimos had the custom of sharing wives between partners ( nangsaghag ), who were considered "brothers," shared food, helped each other in the hunt, and showed each other hospitality. They had the right to enter into sexual relations with each other's wives. Polygyny also existed, primarily among powerful and wealthy men such as shamans; otherwise, it was rather rare.

Domestic Unit. Within each local group the Asiatic Eskimos distinguished groups of relatives ("the big/extended family"). Each group of this sort included several small families, usually living in one large common dwelling. The head of such a large family (Russian: rod ) was called an umilyk or atanyk. The process of the dissolution of the traditional family structure and marital-reproductive relations accelerated dramatically in the mid-1970s. It was related above all to the sharp increase in the percentage of incomplete families, the children of which were born from "temporary" fathers. The main cause of the break was the age and subsequent dying out of the generation that had been born before 1930. This generation was the bearer of the traditional model of familial and marital relations, and practically all of this generation got married and subsequently had a high rate of reproduction and stable family relations. In the generation born in the 1950s, which since early childhood had gone through the system of boarding schools and hardly understood the Eskimo language, the breakup of marital and familial relations reached a very high level: in the settlement of Sireniki, for example, among Eskimo mothers under age 30, two-thirds of the children were born out of wedlock (among mothers born after 1955, it was three-quarters), and the percentage of unmarried women between ages 21 and 30 is 75 percent.

Inheritance. Inheritance was patrilineal, and the position of "clan head" passed from father to son.

Socialization. The most important institution for the socialization of children was the large family. Socialization was achieved by means of the inclusion of children in diverse forms of communal-productive and ritual activity and also with the help of special games and physical exercises directed toward the cultivation of physically hardy and psychologically stable people.


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