Divehi - Kinship



Kin Groups and Descent. The Divehi kinship system in origin is a combination of Dravidian and Arab with elements of North Indian kinship derived from Sri Lanka. Although these three systems are sharply at variance, they are resolved in Divehi culture. The Dravidian system is based on preferred cross-cousin marriage, and a male classifies all females as either sister (unmarriageable) or female cross cousin (marriageable) . The matrilineal variant of the Dravidian system occurs most clearly in the Lakshadvīp Islands off the coast of Kerala, from which Tamil-Malayalam culture would have extended to form the cultural substratum in the Maldives. This comes through clearly in Divehi kinship terminology, the history of queens, remnants of girls' menstruation ceremonies, and other features traced out in Maloney's reconstruction of the culture history. Sinhala settlers too brought a form of Dravidian kinship, modified by features derived from North India. The present Divehi system is heavily influenced by Islamic law, so a man can marry any cousin but not a sibling's daughter, a foster sister, or a stepdaughter. There are few lateral kinship ties and no lineage depth except in a few prominent families; some Divehis do not even recall their grandparents' names.


Kinship Terminology. Divehi kin terms are few, of mixed Sinhala, Arabic, and Dravidian origin. The terms "grandFather" ( kāfa ) and "grandmother" ( māma ), and "father" ( bappa ) and "mother" ( mamma ) may be applied to other kin of their generation. The terms "elder brother" ( bēbe ) and "elder sister" ( datta ) are extended to elder cousins. Terms one uses for one's juniors, as "younger sibling" ( kokko ), "child" ( dan ), and "child-in-law" ( danbi ), do not distinguish sex. As for in-laws, all males are covered by one term ( liyanu, of Malayalam origin) and females by another ( fahari ). In Fua Mulaku atoll there is a word for "mother's brother," māber, to whom a male may have a special relationship, a Dravidian remnant. There are no terms or marriage rules about cousins, any of whom can marry, as in Islam. There are hardly any Ritual relationships with one's own children, and none with Siblings or other kin. In this sparse system, most of the special kin relationships in the three underlying systems historically canceled each other out, compatible with the extreme frequency of divorce and remarriage.



Marriage and Family

Marriage. There is a tendency toward preferential island endogamy, because people don't like other islands and it is difficult to move. The wedding ceremony consists only of the elemental Islamic rituals. A woman does not appear at her own wedding, but her prior consent is obtained by the katību who officiates. Every woman has a male guardian who signs for her marriage, and all marriages and divorces are meticulously recorded. Divorce and remarriage are remarkably Common; someone might divorce and marry a neighbor, then remarry the original partner or another neighbor, while the children remain nearby. Marriage and divorce are according to Islamic law, interpreted so as to allow frequent remarriages. A man can divorce his wife by a single pronouncement, and if a woman wants a divorce she can behave in such a way that she gets it. It is common to meet people who have been Divorced and remarried a dozen times; there are people who have married even 80 or 90 times in life, often to previous partners. The marriage rate in the Maldives is 34.4 per 1,000 persons per year (compared with 9.7 in United States, and 7.9 in Sri Lanka where divorce is rare). This is by far the highest rate of legal marriage and divorce of any country listed in United Nations statistics. But divorce does not induce trauma in a child, because the parent who departs the home will be a close neighbor, and the parents might remarry. So a child grows up with a special feeling toward all the citizens of his or her island, who are all related and tend to form a marrying unit.

Domestic Unit. The family is usually nuclear and is a fluid unit. Often a woman owns the house, and in divorce the Children may stay with her. Descent can be classified as bilateral and residence mostly as ambilocal or neolocal, or in a few places duolocal. People try to build houses of several rooms and a kitchen, with a fenced garden, and usually keep them tidy. Old people are not automatically entitled to special Respect, especially if they cannot earn; they live either with a child or alone. By law, an aged person should be supported equally by all his grown children.

Inheritance. Islamic inheritance is observed, in which a daughter gets half the share of a son. But some people will all their property to one child in return for old-age support. A woman tends to inherit the house and a man the boats. When a woman dies, the first share of her property goes to her legal guardian (usually her father) and then in turn to husband, sons, and daughters. Because of the frequency of divorce, married couples have separate ownership of all movable and immovable property. Inheritance is settled by the Islamic judge ( qāzi ).

Socialization. Children are mostly raised benevolently, with emphasis on absence of violence and control of emotion. Aggressive play among children is not acceptable, and in the society there is hardly any physical aggression, violence, or murder. Boys may swim, play on boats, climb trees, fly kites, or walk on stilts. Girls do not do these things, but they play hopscotch, shell games, or "kitchens." Children's play is not encouraged. On most islands there is little that is new to explore, no new personalities, and no real schooling. Mothers teach children to read and write Divehi, using chalk on little slate boards, for Islamic teaching, and many islands have Little schools attached to the mosques, so almost all Divehis become literate. Many children learn to intone Arabic letters in order to "read" the Quran, although without any understanding.


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