Mingrelians - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditionally, marriage was arranged—even at birth on occasion—with the bride's eldest brother or her maternal uncle playing a decisive role. Marriage could not take place if couples had a common name, were related through fictive kinship, or shared the same clan icon. Apart from the latter, this generally still applies. Marriage in the same village was avoided and the eldest daughter was always married first. For one year after the marriage, newlywed couples would not communicate with each other in public. The average marriage age was 13 to 14 for rural Georgians, including Mingrelians, and kidnapping of brides was permissable provided a number of complicated rules were observed. Modern marriage is no longer arranged, and although couples still marry young and have children very soon afterward, 17 is now the minimum age. Women are expected to remain virgins until marriage. Divorce, while still infrequent—particularly in the rural areas—is relatively easy and women's rights in any settlement are observed and protected by law. The official marriage ceremony is no longer religious, although couples often undergo a "second marriage" in the church. Most postmarital residence is patrilocal. The major form of birth control has been abortion.

Domestic Unit. The extended-family household, which is a source of mutual economic and emotional assistance, remains the major domestic unit. Large families persist in rural Mingrelia, but the norm of lateral extension, particularly between married brothers, is declining in favor of the more limited lineal extension, incorporating grandparents or unmarried brothers and sisters. Lateral relations still tend to live nearby. In urban areas, the trend is toward nuclear families.

Inheritance. Historically, land and property inheritance went through male lines of descent, particularly among brothers, although women, notably affines, were not excluded from holding some personal private property. Legal codes now specify bilateral inheritance, although the law rarely intervenes in inheritance matters, which are seen as a matter for collective decision by the coresidents of the deceased's household and the extended family. Wills are rarely drawn up.

Socialization. Children are the center of family life. Young children are rarely punished physically. In the past, children were brought up to observe traditional gender roles. Boys were encouraged to be tough and proficient in horse riding, hunting, and with firearms; girls were introduced to domestic tasks. Observance of the father's authority was strictly enforced, as was respect for living parents and deceased ancestors. These patterns—although horses have been replaced with cars—remain intact today and their inculcation is the responsibility of all the family. The state takes a hand in socialization when children begin school at 7 years of age. From adolescence on, children are expected to participate more fully in work within the family household.

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