Qiang - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Kin Groups and Descent. Villages, or clusters of villages, are largely endogamous groups of close kin who may sometimes think of themselves as descendants ( rus ) of a common male or female ancestor. Exchanges of kin between villages may also occur, especially in the case of wealthier families. There are no lineages, even among elites; house names provide a sense of family continuity, although they may not be passed on to children leaving home. In a few QLB areas, personal names incorporate part of the name of the father or mother. Today many people (including virtually all of the Qiang in areas like Mauwen) have adopted Han surnames.

Kinship Terminology. Kinship terms reflect generation and sex, and with the exception of terms for key individuals (father, mother, mother's brother) are extended to all members of the community. In some areas, cousin terms reflect age level but not sex.

Marriage. Ties between men and women are weak, while sibling solidarity is strong. Romantic love is important and there is considerable sexual freedom. There are few rules; people tend not to have relationships with close neighbors/kin, although unions of siblings sometimes occur. Marriage, in the sense of a discrete event marking an individual's passage from one household to another, does not exist. A gradual transition may begin with a young man performing bride-service, dividing his residence between two households. A ritual may eventually be held to formalize this relationship, although the living arrangement remains unchanged. After there have been one or more children, the man may move in with his new family, although he continues to have rights in his natal household. The transition is not complete until he dies and his new family agrees to bury his ashes with their ancestors. There are several variations; the period of bride-service may be prolonged indefinitely (as in the azhu system of the Naxi), or a young woman may come to perform groom-service, or a family may resort to bride-theft (with prior consent of all parties). The ceremony, if held, has strong communal overtones; payment of token bride-wealth or groom-wealth is made, if possible, between representatives of neighborhoods or communities, not families. Today old traditions are changing rapidly, partly because of laws requiring registration of households and sanctions against unmarried parents, and partly because people are encouraged to view these old customs as backward. In many (especially Qiang) areas Han marriage customs have been adopted along with patrilineal ideology. In these areas there may still be a high frequency of uxorilocal marriage, and arranged marriage may lead to love suicide. The tradition of delaying the change of residence until a year or more after marriage is often preserved, along with rights in the natal family.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit centers around a woman and her children, men being viewed as somewhat peripheral. Households consist of one such unit, although units associated with siblings may share a single household before one takes up neolocal residence. Polygamy within the household is not found, although men may have relationships with more than one family. Both the sororate and the levirate are practiced.

Inheritance. In many areas land and cattle are divided equally among all members of the family, including those leaving home. Individuals taking up residence are expected to bring rights to land and cattle with them (thus family fields are widely dispersed). An heir, often a younger child, is selected while the parents are still living. At this time, the authority of parents is diminished and they may leave to set up a neolocal residence or take up residence with an older child. In "patrilineal" areas, fields may end up being inherited with the house.

Socialization. Responsibility for child care is shared by all members of the family unit; if a woman moves out after bearing children, her children often remain behind in their natal home. Children are assigned simple tasks at an early age. Emphasis is placed on independence and self-reliance and physical punishment is rare.


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