Emberá - Marriage and Family

Marriage. There are no marriage prescriptions, but unions between first- and second-degree consanguineal relatives on both sides are disallowed. Only in some very isolated groups are there unions between first cousins and between aunts or uncles and nephews or nieces. A man will ask a woman's father for permission to live with her, and the couple will do so without any further ceremony. In some places, missionary influence has made Catholic religious marriage ceremonies common. Monogamy is the rule, but polygyny is permitted and is frequent in some places. Sometimes a man will marry two sisters or a woman and her daughter. Residence is virilocal or uxorilocal, mainly according to land and economic conditions. Divorce is permitted on the initiative of either of the two parties, but it is held in low esteem and can lead to problems between the two families.

Domestic Unit. Upon their arrival, the Spaniards encountered large groups—from eighteen to seventy persons—inhabiting a house as the basic domestic unit; this was the pattern until shortly after the mid-twentieth century. Since then there has been a strong emphasis on the nuclear family, although, with few exceptions, parents usually remain in the home of one of their married children. The size of local groups has diminished. Since precontact times, couples appear to have had an average of five living children.

Inheritance. Personal goods are handed down from parents to children of the same sex. Where land is private property, sons and daughters have equal rights to it, but if the size of the property is small, there is a tendency for women to be passed over. If there are neither spouse(s) nor children among the survivors of a man, other kin and relations can inherit his property. Where spatial mobility is maintained, children tend to cultivate anew the lands that were once worked by their parents.

Socialization. For the first years of their lives, boys and girls are taken care of by the members of the extended family. Later, each parent takes care of the apprenticeship of his or her children of the same sex. Permissiveness is the norm, and only in extreme cases is corporal punishment meted out. Shame is an important formative mechanism. In almost all settlements it is common for children to attend public schools or missionary boarding schools. This is an impediment to the processes of traditional enculturation.

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