Cuna - Marriage and Family

Marriage. In aboriginal times polygyny existed and was practiced generally. In the late seventeenth century residence was independent or neolocal, but since the nineteenth century the tendency has been toward matrilocality. Nevertheless, in most acculturated communities, neolocal residence has reappeared. In the 1990s monogamy and polygyny both occur; there is a strong rejection to ethnic exogamy, and cousins and their descendants cannot marry. Bride-service, in which the man must work approximately one year for his father-in-law, may be aborginal. Divorce can be initiated by a man or a woman. The choice of a spouse is a matter for the families rather than a personal choice, but recently, and under the influence of missionaries, the individual's wishes have become more important.

Domestic Unit. Household size in aborginial and colonial times was larger than it is today. Each house could lodge twenty or twenty-five people. Currently, there are two kinds of households, the traditional and the modern. The first type is composed of several conjugal families related by blood ties. The unit contains a couple, with the man ( sakka ) as head of the group, their single sons, married daughters and their husbands and children, and single daughters. Married sons live in their wives' households (i.e., residence is matrilocal). The modern type is the conjugal family and is very common on the San Blas Islands.

Inheritance. Personal property and land are passed from parents to children. Sometimes land is shared among siblings. The land received by daughters may be worked by their husbands, but spouses do not inherit from one another; nor, as a general rule, do step- or adopted children receive lands from their parents, but they may work the land inherited by biological sons and daughters. In traditional conditions, no land titles exist.

Socialization. Boys and girls were traditionally raised in a permissive environment, and this is still the case today; physical punishments are rare, and parents are very affable and affectionate with children. Approximately at the age of 2 years, girls have their noses perforated for the implantation of a gold ring, which is bought in Panamá or in the Colombian cities of Medellín or Turbo. This ornament is worn by women throughout life and is a symbol of ethnic identification. Boys and girls must attend council house or religious instruction, but this custom is disappearing; the tendency is toward informal learning of myths and ritual practices in the family circle.

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