Magar - Kinship



Kin Groups and Descent. Clans are made up of local patrilineages. A Magar man conceives of his local patrilineage as a group flanked on one side by one or more patrilineages that have provided his own lineage with wives and on the other side by one or more patrilineages to which his lineage has given wives. This configuration results from a rule that defines marriage to a woman from a wife-receiving lineage as incestuous. The rule is an important aspect of Magar identity, serving, for instance, to differentiate Magar society from Gurung society, which permits marriage with either flanking lineage. The configuration also serves to allocate to specific patrilineages a number of ceremonial duties connected, for example, with marriage, funeral, and certain other rites.

The Thapa clans of Sinjali, Makkim, and Sunari are represented in Banyan Hill. Members of the same clan believe they are all descended in the male line from a shared (but unknown) male ancestor, and clan members cannot marry one another.

Locally, the Thapa Sinjalis are divided into three patrilineages, each tracing descent through male links to a known ancestor. Lineage members share common pollution at the time of birth or death and observe related taboos. Birth pollution lasts eleven days, during which lineage members cannot participate in any kind of religious ceremony. The period of pollution after the death of an adult is thirteen days, and there is a taboo on eating salt. If a child dies before it is named, only the mother is polluted; a named child, dying when less than 3 years old, pollutes only the parents. The death of a child older than 3 years counts as an adult death and pollutes the whole lineage. An unmarried daughter living at home is not polluted by the death of her father or of her father's lineage members because she is not regarded as belonging to the lineage. When married, she becomes a member of her husband's lineage. She is polluted by death in the same way as its members and has to observe the same taboos they do.

A deceased man's sons, closest lineage brothers, and occasionally the husband of a daughter or sister take turns carrying his bier to the cremation site. When a wife dies, her sons and her husband's lineage brothers, but not the husband, perform this task.

Most lineages, as defined by men who are communally polluted by births and deaths, correspond to a group of men called hukdar, which is determined by tracing male links from a common ancestor in the sixth ascending generation. The hukdar are important in the inheritance of land, especially if a widower dies without surviving sons and without previously willing some of his property to a daughter.

Banyan Hill Magars speak of daughters and sisters who have married and left home as cheli-beti and call the men they have married kutumba. More broadly, they sometimes use the latter term to refer collectively to their married daughters and sisters, the husbands of these women and the husbands' Lineage brothers, and even the hamlet areas where they all live. Girls refer to their fathers' lineages and their natal hamlets as maita. Magars say that when they celebrate an auspicious occasion such as the fall festival of Dasain, they call together the cheli-beti, but when it is a question of help to be rendered on an inauspicious occasion, such as a funeral, they call the kutumba.

When possible, a man prefers to marry a daughter of his mother's brother, or mama. If his mama has no daughter, the next choice is any girl from a family in mama's lineage who is younger than the prospective groom. Since any such girls are potential wives, their potential husbands are allowed and even expected to joke with them about sex and to touch them freely. Marriage to a mama's daughter is only a preference and is not in the same category as the strict rule forbidding Marriage to a father's sister's daughter. As explained earlier, a patrilineage that becomes a source of wives cannot in the next generation become a receiver of wives, because such an Exchange is regarded as incestuous. The rule sometimes is expressed using the metaphor of milk: a wife-giving patrilineage identified in the local context as the "milk side," the source of wives and mothers, is not a suitable source of husbands.

During the 1961 fieldwork in Banyan Hill, residents were queried about their kin relationship to each of their spouses, past or present, living or dead. Of the 58 marriages recorded, 17 were between a man and a woman who was either his mama's daughter or daughter of his mama's lineage. The remaining marriages were the result of a search for girls Generally not more than a day's walk away, who belonged to a clan other than the potential groom's and to a lineage other than the one to which girls from the groom's lineage had in recent memory gone as wives. The result was a multiplex, fairly dense, and localized pattern of affinal ties. The groom who made such a marriage spoke of his wife's family, lineage, and hamlet as his susural. His son, though, spoke of it as his mamali —the family, lineage, and hamlet of his mother's brother. Both he and also his lineage mates now felt that they had a strong claim on marriageable girls in this lineage, which sometimes led to a run on brides from a particular and heretofore unallied patrilineage.

Kinship Terminology. Ego's descent group and his two flanking descent groups are the basic categories in the Magar system of kinship terminology. Whether the terms are in Magarkura, Khamkura, or Nepali—the increasingly usual language of Banyan Hill Magars—the terms that Ego uses clearly distinguish to which of these three descent groups a relative in his own and first ascending and descending generations belongs. In the third ascending and descending generations, the descent group distinction is lost and only two terms appear—one for males, the other for females. The system throughout is sensitive to gender difference and, in the Middle three generations, to relative age, though an exception appears in the wife-receiving descent group. Here the same terms are used for two different categories of husbands: those married to Ego's descent group's sisters and those married to Ego's descent group's daughters.


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