Ossetes - Marriage and Family

Marriage. The possibilities of marriage within Ossetic society were strictly defined by the rules of endogamy and exogamy, which prohibited marriage between relatives and restricted marriages between members of different religions or social classes. Until the Soviet era, marriage was based mainly on the bride-price and on sociopolitical motives, but almost never on love. The rituals before, during, and after the wedding festivities were very complicated and involved large amounts of money and time. Specifically the wedding involved at least five principal stages: a meeeting between the two families to discuss the bride-price, dowry, and similar matters; a gathering of all the bride's relatives to celebrate the engagement; a second meeting of both families to discuss gift giving; the "small wedding" at the home of the bride's parents, for which animals were slaughtered and the groom's family presented a calf to that of the bride and the "big wedding" at the groom's home. (As of the late 1970s 30 to 70 percent of these stages were being realized in weddings.) Whereas traditional marriage was monogamous, the Islamic part of Ossetic society also practiced polygyny, although for material reasons polygyny was found almost exclusively among rich feudal families. In Ossetia there was a customary obligation that an unmarried brother marry the widow of his dead brother, so that the family could keep her economic contribution and there would be no need to pay a bride-price once more. Typically, it was the bride who left her parents' house, but if her family had no son the bridegroom could be accepted at the house of his parents-in-law—this was quite common in southern and central Ossetia. After the birth of the first son, which formerly was a cause for great celebration, the position of the young mother in the family was strengthened. At the present time, social and material reasons have led to smaller families. As elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, abortion is considered a normal form of birth control. Divorce, which was rare in traditional Ossetia, has also become acceptable in modern Ossetia.

Domestic Unit. As a rule, the traditional extended households no longer exist. The small family itself is the ideal domestic unit, but in many cases the lack of new apartments leads to two or three families living together involuntarily.

Inheritance. The inheritance of land, houses, and cattle was strictly defined. The brothers and the widow of the deceased had to divide the inheritance into equal shares among themselves. The best part of the inherited property was reserved for the eldest brother, who also obtained a special "share for the eldest one."

Socialization. Traditionally, the younger family members had to follow the advice of the elder ones. The male and female leaders of the family were responsible for maintaining the tranquility of their community. Although in the past they were respected absolutely, at the present time young people follow their own wishes more and more, often leading to conflicts between the generations.

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