Tibetans - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Among the peasants of the southern arc of the Tibetan plateau, traditional marriage patterns exhibited a great deal of variety and flexibility through the individual's life cycle. The seven forms of marriage were: fraternal polyandry (a set of brothers marries one woman), father-son and unrelated male polyandry, sororal polygyny (a set of sisters marries one man), mother-daughter and unrelated female polygyny, and monogamy. Monogamy was the most frequent form of marriage. Traditionally, Tibetans calculated the degree of relation allowed in marriage as five generations back on the mother's side and seven on the father's, although many were unable to determine genealogy this far back. Although of astrological and cosmological import, marriage was viewed as a nonreligious joining of two households and individuals. Postmarital residence was generally virilocal.

Marriages were class-endogamous. Serfs from different manors who wished to marry required permission from their lords or their lords' agents. Yellow sect lamas do not marry, but lamas of most other sects are free to do so.

Domestic Unit. The peasant household was the chief domestic unit; it was often, but not necessarily constituted of three generations of males and their wives and children. Individuals of both genders rotated in and out of the household with great flexibility.

Inheritance. Although the traditional inheritance pattern for peasant land was patrilineal descent and primogeniture, both males and females could inherit land or receive it as a gift. Maintenance of the household as the landholding, tax-paying unit could be accomplished by any member of the family. Personal property could also be inherited by any member of the family, although women commonly passed on to their daughters their jewelry, clothing, and other personal possessions. Monks and nuns did not inherit. Wills, oral or written, could alter the inheritance pattern.

Socialization. Tibetans dote on their children but believe in strong discipline and religious instruction. Traditionally, the pattern in Tibet was to raise children to follow the same occupations as their parents unless they chose to become traders or take religious vows and leave the family. Only those children entering government service were given formal education.

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