Wáiwai - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Wáiwai usually marry in their mid-teens. The preferred spouse is an actual or classificatory cross cousin (a form of delayed cross-generational exchange). Unrelated persons are also considered marriageable, in which case a sister exchange is often arranged (a more immediate form of exchange). The son-in-law owes an enormous debt to his parents-in-law for their daughter. He is expected to settle next to them, help them build a house and garden, supply them with meat and basketry, and be deferential. He gradually becomes more independent and eventually commands a son-in-law himself. Leaders try to keep both their married sons and sons-in-law next door. A village leader must have a wife; if she dies, he must remarry soon or lose his position. Each Wáiwai traditionally had a sequence of spouses through his or her life in a pattern of serial monogamy. Polygamy and polyandry occurred at times but were usually temporary. Under missionary influence new norms have been instituted: premarital celibacy, lifelong monogamy, and absence of divorce.

Domestic Unit. Formerly, a village had a single collective house sheltering four to ten families, each with its own section and hearth; today each nuclear family has its own house. The domestic unit includes the husband and wife, unmarried children, and any widowed parent.

Inheritance. Few or no goods are passed on to others after someone's death because of the custom of destroying the deceased's personal possessions and house.

Socialization. A baby's soul is said to be "soft" and easily detached from its body; socialization practices are designed to anchor it more firmly to the body and to gradually "harden" the soul by adulthood. A baby is in close physical contact with its mother for almost two years, carried continuously on her hip in a sling and sleeping in the same hammock. Independence is not accelerated, and contact with nonrelatives is discouraged, so children are shy and their identity remains closely bound to their extended family. Both parents are affectionate; corporal punishment is strongly disapproved. Toys are few; children's play is mostly an imitation of adult activities, and early on they learn to help their parents. Education at the mission or government school occupies about two hours a day from ages 7 to 14. Baptism has replaced traditional initiation rites for adolescents, which used to consist of menstrual seclusion for girls and ordeals of physical endurance (scratching and stinging insects) for both sexes. Teenage boys often rebel and experiment with non-Indian ways, but they eventually settle down upon marriage, the main transition to adulthood. Young adults who aspire to leadership practice oratory, assiduously meet obligations to their inlaws, and seek public ratification.

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