Nu - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Marriages are monogamous. The bride joins her husband's village. A new house, land, and livestock are provided for the married couple. The youngest son inherits the parental house and remaining lands and livestock. Marriage to cross cousins was encouraged: it was said that they strengthened ties between households. Marriages to parallel cousins were also frequent, though in most areas they were distant cousins related through a common great-grandfather or more remote ascendant. These marriages are no longer permitted under state law. Marriages were usually parentally arranged during childhood, and initiated by the groom's family with gifts of wine and cattle. The boy and girl's agreement was required and the marriage took place when they were in their late teens. However, unmarried youth were free to interact and court, which resulted in "elopement marriages" or "stealing the bride." These marriages required the consent of the groom's family and spared them most of the bride-price costs. In some cases, the couple resided with the girl's family until the birth of the first child. Levirate marriage was encouraged but not mandatory. After several decades of a harmonious marriage a couple will hold a dimuwa ceremony to which relatives, friends, and neighbors are invited. At the feast, the couple dress as bride and groom, reenact the marriage ceremonies and are presented with gifts by the guests. Only males could inherit land and livestock, but women's wealth took the form of silver, coral, cornelian, and turquoise jewelry, which were gifts from her parents or husband.

The nuclear family household is the basic unit, and in the past worked together with some ten or twelve closely related households. Under the new socialist government, collectives based on kin ties were discouraged. Above the localized lineage branch is the clan, which has a totemic name drawn from the Nu origin myths, a genealogy going back thirty to forty generations, and its own rituals for the ancestors. Hunting or eating one's totemic animal is forbidden. Community leadership was under the direction of a respected elder male, chosen for his intelligence, ability, and moral standing, who settled internal disputes and represented the community to the outside world. In villages comprised solely of kin he also served as a healer, diviner, shaman, and director of religious rites; in multilineage villages these roles were separated. Women had no public voice in community matters and did not participate in the rituals of their husband's lineage. Chinese sources are vague about women's roles in their natal lineages. Since the 1950s, political criteria have been the main determinants of official leadership at the village, township, and county levels, and religious leaders are discouraged.

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