Pemon - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage ties form the links that bind different settlements together, and the overall pattern of residence can be thought of as the result of ties to parents, brothers, and sisters, on the one hand, and in-laws on the other. Married couples form the basic economic units of Pemon society, and formerly the families of the betrothed spent considerable time discussing the proficiency, or lack thereof, of the prospective spouses at subsistence tasks. Upon marriage, the groom takes up residence with his parents-in-law to perform at least one or two years of bride-service. There is no marriage ceremony; the relationship becomes public when the groom slings his hammock in the house of his father-in-law. Pemon have a rule enjoining marriage with a category of relative that includes the opposite-sex cross cousin, although the rule is only partially followed in practice. Marriage with a category of relative that includes the sister's daughter is also found. Polygyny is practiced, with about 8 percent of all marriages involving a male and two or more co-wives; co-wives are often sisters. Divorce rates are low; about 10 percent of all ever-married individuals have been divorced.

Domestic Unit. Nuclear families predominate, although two- and three-generation extended families build up as sons-in-law marry in or sons bring their wives back home after bride-service. A settlement may have two or three households within five minutes' walk, the members of which span several generations of one or two families.

Inheritance. In the past, an individual's personal belongings were destroyed at death, but nowadays valued items such as shotguns or manioc graters may be passed on to near relatives, usually a child or sibling of the deceased. Houses were formerly burned or abandoned upon the death of the head of household.

Socialization. Pemon children learn by example and are given free rein. Early on, both boys and girls begin helping parents at subsistence tasks such as gathering firewood and hauling water. The Pemon do not approve of anger or displays of hostility; if an adult strikes a child at all, it is so mildly as to be merely a reminder. Some Pemon children spend time in mission boarding or day schools, through the primary school years and sometimes beyond.

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