Domestic Unit. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Buriats still had two types of family organization: a large patriarchal family and a small family. The first consisted of members of several generations, including brothers' families, who jointly owned property, had a common household, and together raised their children. The small family consisted of parents, unmarried daughters, and unmarried sons. Cut off from large patriarchies, the small families maintained economic and social relations with each other. They grazed and raised their cattle together, bought and used agricultural equipment together, processed the products of animal husbandry together, offered each other material assistance, and celebrated holidays and conducted religious rituals together.
Marriage. Marriages were formed in the following traditional ways: arranged marriage, in which two family groups, after negotiating the conditions, entered into a kinship relation (this included marriage through bride-price or the exchange of marriageable women between two family groups, sororate, and levirate) and marriage through abduction of the bride by relatives or friends of the bridegroom, sometimes with her consent and sometimes by force. Having reached the age of 15 or 16, a young man or woman was considered of marriageable age. Young men, however, usually married between the ages of 18 and 25 and girls between 17 and 21. In preparing for marriage the Buriats attached great significance to the genealogy of the bridegroom ( udha), that is to say, his forefathers and his family. Physical and spiritual health, fertility, and respect for national traditions were qualities that were especially valued and sought.
The wedding was preceded by a proposal and betrothal. If the proposal was accepted, the fathers of the bride and groom exchanged waistbands ( kyshak). After this pact the marriage contract could not be broken. The day of the wedding was set after the bride-price was paid. Before the wedding the bridegroom performed a sacrifice to the gods and spirits and to the protector of his bride's clan. A ceremony was also held in which the bride's family was entertained by the groom's family. The main dish served at such a ceremony was filly meat, served with double-distilled kumys ( tarasun). The bride hosted a party for her girlfriends on the eve of her wedding with feasting and singing of sad songs. The bride had to be taken to the bridegroom's house on horseback. The most important rite was when the bride bowed to the spirits of the bridegroom's clan—and later to the Buddhist gods—and threw small pieces of fat at the bare chest of her father-in-law and sometimes at other elder relatives of the bridegroom. Accurate aim was taken as a sign of fertility.
Socialization. Women traditionally bore many children. Since infant mortality in past centuries was considerable, people used magic practices to try to protect their children from evil spirits. They appealed to the shaman to protect their children and tried to deceive evil spirits by giving boys girls' names and girls boys' names or by giving disparaging names to both boys and girls. Every nine and twelve years they performed rites to mark the beginning of new life cycles. From early childhood, children were accustomed to working. Girls learned from their mothers how to milk cattle, sew, and prepare meals. Boys helped their fathers and older brothers tend cattle, protect them from predators and bad weather, shear sheep, and tan hides. By age 6 or 7 children assisted in caring for their younger brothers and sisters.