Naxi - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditional Lijiang Naxi society shows a fairly strong preference for patrilateral cross-cousin marriage (between a man and his father's sister's daughter). Marriages were arranged by the parents, often when the marriage partners were quite young. Nevertheless, young people frequently took as lovers individuals other than their intended spouses. Unable to break their parents' arrangements, such couples not infrequently resorted to joint suicide. Today, although all marriages are in principal freely contracted by the individuals involved, arranged cross-cousin marriage remains fairly common in the remote villages. Residence is generally patri-virilocal and divorce is very rare. In Yongning society, by contrast, many people do not marry formally, but establish variable-term sexual relations with one or more azhus ("friends"). In azhu relationships, a man will visit his woman friend at night, and return to his own natal, matrilineal household in the morning. Children born of such unions are generally raised in their mother's house.

Domestic Unit. Lijiang Naxi households are initially comprised of a married couple and their unmarried children. Subsequently, all daughters marry out, while elder sons establish independent households nearby upon marriage. Only the youngest son remains with his parents and brings in a wife. Yongning "matrilineal" households are more extended. The recognized head is usually a senior woman, and an ideal household would include her brothers, her younger sisters, her children, her sisters' children, and her and her sisters' daughters' children. Several other household structures, including some based on virilocal marriage, are also found in Yongning.

Inheritance. In Lijiang, sons divide their parents' property equally upon the marriage of the eldest son. Daughters receive a dowry. In Yongning, property can be inherited in either the matri- or the patriline, depending on household composition and descent reckoning as indicated above.

Socialization. While young children enjoy a great deal of unsupervised play, they begin to help around the house at an early age, and by age 12 or 13 are expected to start working alongside their parents. Boys help with the herding, girls in the garden and around the house, and both sexes work in the production and processing of major crops. About 90 percent of the children attend six years of primary school, and perhaps 40 percent of these continue on to middle school. As sons approach a marriageable age they take on an increasingly important role in the business of the patrilineage, and relations with their fathers tend to become more strained. Young brides often have difficulties in adjusting to life in their husband's household, especially as regards their relationship with their mother-in-law.

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