Apalai - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is preferably with bilateral cross cousins; marriage with parallel cousins is considered incestuous. Polygyny is preferred, especially with a mother and daughter or with two sisters. For a woman, marriage takes place following the onset of menstruation and the celebration of an initiation ritual that features seclusion and propitiatory rites. Marriage can also be contracted between a man and a girl of prepuberty age, in which case the consummation of the union is delayed until the girl has reached womanhood. Although cross-cousin marriage is still the ideal form, the low population index forces the Apalai to enter into different arrangements, including alliances with the Wayana. Yet tribal endogamy is upheld whenever possible, mainly because of the linguistic barrier between the two groups; only a few Apalai speak the Wayana language.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family constitutes the residential unit. Co-wives live together but keep separate kitchens. There is a preference for initial matrilocality: couples first live with the wife's parents but move away after a prescribed time to establish their neolocal household somewhere in the vicinity. The elderly and widowed live with their children or with married grandchildren. In the past, communal houses lodged entire extended families. During the day life unfolded in the village, but at night everyone retired to spend the night in the large, totally enclosed dwelling at the edge of the forest.

Inheritance. By request, a deceased person's belongings may accompany him or her into the grave. Otherwise they are burned, broken, or thrown into the river, depending on the materials from which they are made. Lidded telescoping baskets containing feather ornaments are not destroyed but passed on to the deceased's sons.

Socialization. Small children are socialized by their mother, who takes exclusive care of them. From the age of 3 or 4, small pubic covers are worn by boys and girls. This is the time when initial apprenticeship takes place by way of imitative and pleasurable learning. The children are given miniature artifacts such as bows and arrows for the boys and carrying baskets for the girls. Later both sexes begin developing handicraft skills, starting with processing cotton. Instruction intensifies as they grow older and is accompanied by admonishments and activities that are markedly related to the economic cycle. The children accompany their parents to the fields, the forest, or the river, in accordance with the sexual division of labor. The time prior to marriage is employed in refining handicraft skills so as to increase expertise in the manufacture of artifacts and ornaments.

Socialization is only considered complete after the rites of passage, which are different for each sex. Puberty ordeals for girls take place within the home—leaf-cutter ants held in frames against the skin are used to further proper physical development. Male ordeals involve a complex ritual. Frames—similar to those used in the female rites—holding ants or wasps of various kinds are applied to the skin to ensure dexterity in hunting; each man submits to at least seven different wasp ordeals. The missionaries disapprove of the traditional customs and maintain that formal schooling and the evangelical cult are the only appropriate educational options. Thus, puberty rituals are now performed only sporadically.

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