Bhil - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Extensive regional variations of the marriage restrictions exist, although clan exogamy is strictly enforced everywhere. In some areas, such as Sabar Kantha and the Panch Mahals, cross-cousin marriage with the daughter of one's father's sister is permitted or even preferred. Polygyny among the Bhils is quite frequent. In the Ratanmal area, where lowland Bhils express displeasure at the thought of marrying off their daughters to the highland Bhils, a high incidence of this intermarriage occurs nevertheless, almost all as a result of elopement. This practice invariably results in dissatisfaction and bitterness, especially where negotiations for the bride-wealth are involved. Bhils marry young, at around 14-16 years for boys and 11-13 years for girls. A boy's first wife is expected to be a virgin. Residence is not established until after the girl's first menstruation, and the couple remain in most respects highly dependent on their parents for guidance and assistance for several more years. Clan exogamic injunctions are strictly enforced. Additionally, tribal endogamy is preferred, therefore intermarriage is often spatially restricted to a 35- to 40-kilometer radius. Although polygyny is accepted, the high bride-price to be paid, especially for a virgin first wife, is an important reason for the prevalence of monogamy among the Bhils. Sororal unions often occur among polygynous marriages, but although leviratic alliances are allowed they are quite rare. Most marriages fall in one of five categories: contract marriages, elopements, mutual attraction, marriage by service, and abduction.

A married woman sets up residence in her husband's village, in a new house built near his father's homestead. A son is generally given some farmland and a few head of cattle with which he may subsist and provide for his own family. The new couple function as a distinct economic unit and are expected soon to be independent of his parents, but mutual assistance occurs frequently, especially in such farming activities as plowing, sowing, and harvesting. It is not uncommon for related men to cultivate land jointly with the express purpose of sharing the harvest equally. Among polygynous families, each wife is entitled to her own abode, but all are considered members of one household. The senior wife maintains a position of authority and determines the equitable distribution of the labor requirements of the homestead. The annulment of a marriage is formally recognized by all parties with the return of the bride-wealth. The dissolution of a marriage is often initiated by the woman, who, dissatisfied with her husband, abandons him, frequently eloping with another man.

Domestic Unit. The basic coresidential unit is the nuclear family, comprising a couple and their unmarried children. Within polygynous families, several contiguous homes may constitute the homestead. As sons marry, the nuclear family loses its commensal nature but solidarity continues as a joint family evolves with corporate characteristics, wherein the patriarch maintains ultimate control and authority over the landholdings.

Inheritance. Upon the death of the patriarch, his property and debts are divided among his sons, the size of the allotment increasing in direct proportion to a son's seniority. A daughter receives an inheritance only if she has no male Siblings, although her father's brother's sons may receive an allotment as well. Property owned by her is inalienable and reverts back to the lineage upon her death if she in turn has no heirs. In instances where there are no direct heirs, the property is inherited by the deceased person's closest collaterals.

Socialization. Although formal submissiveness is rarely stressed, discipline is maintained by frequent beatings or threats, and the child is expected to contribute to the Household economy very early, often accompanying the parents in their daily rounds by the age of 6. Babies are weaned from the mother's breast and fed solid food after 10 to 11 months. Among the Bhils, the shaving of the head occurs when the child reaches the age of 5 years.

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