Kalmyks - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage was traditionally an important rite of passage and symbol of adulthood. Only upon marriage was a boy considered "to become a man" ( kun bolva ) . Monogomy was prevalent, but polygamy was practiced among the Kalmyk chiefs and the well-to-do. It was not uncommon for the younger brother to marry a deceased brother's widow. Marriage was ordinarily arranged by parents, and an astrologist ( zurkhachi ) was often consulted about the compatibility of a bride. There was no elaborate property settlement. Couples were sometimes engaged as early as 6 to 7 years of age and married at the age of 16 to 18. Arranging a marriage was a long process requiring the performance of numerous elaborate customs. Lamas did not conduct the wedding ceremony. After the wedding the newlyweds settled in the khoton of the groom. Today, because of the severe housing shortage, postmarital residence is conditioned mostly by the availability of space rather than the force of tradition. Traditionally, divorce was readily accomplished at the wish of a husband. A wife seeking a divorce confronted many difficulties and could obtain freedom only after many humiliations and with the lamas' consent. Nowadays divorce is increasingly common. The age of marriage and childbearing is early or mid-20s for both men and women. Legal abortion is the principal means of birth control.

Domestic Unit. The basic domestic unit was the khoton—a nomadic camp composed of several agnatically related families. An average khoton consisted of ten to twelve families, each residing in its own ger (tent). The khoton functioned as a single economic and social unit. Every nuclear family was potentially capable of taking its sheep, leaving the extended family, and joining another khoton. At present, the extended family household is the primary form of domestic unit, with a growing tendency toward nuclear families.

Inheritance. Inheritance was through the male line of descent. Property was usually divided among the sons, the eldest inheriting the largest share. A woman could inherit property temporarily until a minor male heir reached maturity.

Socialization. Friendship was a primary means of traditional socialization. After having sworn allegiance to each other, two Kalmyks became nökörs, united by a firm male bondage. Fines paid in cattle were the most common means of enforcing the law. In the nineteenth century, corporal punishment introduced by the Russian administration became the major means of discipline. Respect for parents, adults, and the aged was and continues be important.

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