Wa - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kin Groups and Descent. A village is based on several clans, which are composed of many families that descend from the same ancestors. Each clan has its own name and a chief. Members of the same clan have common duties and rights such as paying debts for those who cannot afford to pay themselves. The descent line of a family and a clan is remembered through a patrilineal naming system that combines the name of the son with that of the father, whose name in turn is a combination of his own and the grandfather's; the family line can be traced back in this manner to twenty or thirty generations.

Marriage. Marriages are monogamous, with some exceptions of polygamy that were legitimate according to the Wa customary law and were practiced by a small number of people before the 1950s. One of their strictest rules is the prohibition of marriage or any sexual relation between people who have the same clan names; they believe that violation of this rule causes disasters for the whole village and thus should be seriously punished. For a marriage, the groom provides feasts for the engagement and the wedding and pays a bride-price to the bride's family—one or more cows plus gifts of cash, clothing and foods. After marriage, the wife lives with the husband either alone or with his parents. About 50 percent of the marriages are of the cross-cousin type, partially because a man can delay paying his bride-price and instead marry his daughter to his wife's family as compensation. Furthermore, a widow usually remarries to a brother of the former husband in order to avoid having to return the bride-price. As a norm, divorce is allowed as long as one spouse wants it, but in practice it seldom happens.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit is the nuclear family, which includes the husband and wife, children, and, for some, the husband's parents.

Inheritance . The sons inherit the property of the family by dividing it into shares. 1f there is more than one son, the parents will choose either the oldest or the youngest son to live in the old family house and will give him more inheritance privileges. Daughters have no right to inherit anything. 1f the family has neither son nor stepson the clan will inherit its property, unless they bring in a son-in-law to marry one of their daughters.

Socialization. Young people choose marriages freely, with little interference by parents. Teenagers start to socialize with the other sex at age 14 or 15 through a group activity called "visiting girls"; groups of young men visit groups of young women, and over time everyone finds a partner. But having sex before marriage is not allowed and will be punished seriously if it causes a pregnancy. After marriage the husband can still participate in "visiting girls," but the female must cease this activity immediately after her engagement.

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