Magar - Marriage and Family

Marriage. For a virgin girl the minimum ceremony Generally regarded as sufficient to give her the status of a married woman consists of four rites. After securing permission from the prospective bride's family—usually through an intermediary—a representative of the groom's family goes to the bride's house and takes her to the groom's. There, in the first of the four ritual actions, one that only Vaishnavite Magars omit (see below), the man who accompanied the bride Sacrifices a chicken at the entrance to the groom's farmstead. The bride and groom step on the blood for strength and well-being and to keep evil spirits at bay. The second action takes place at the entrance to the groom's house, when first the Father and his lineage elders and then the mother, as tokens of their acceptance of the union and hopes for its auspicious future, each press a tika (auspicious spot) of red-colored curd and rice on the couple's foreheads. Inside the house, as a symbol of their consummated union, the groom gives his bride some red powder for the part in her hair, usually applying some of it himself. The fourth and final step is the return of the couple and their party to the bride's house, carrying a gift of food for the bride's family. Each entering person is given a tika at the door, and then the bride's mother serves them a meal.

Marriages of virgin girls are sometimes made more Elaborate, mainly by bringing more food to the bride's house and making the return procession more conspicuous. In such cases there is a tailor to beat a drum and, as companions and food carriers for the couple, a virgin girl from the bride's Lineage and a man married to a girl from the groom's lineage. These two carry curd, fried bread, beer, and rice-based liquor. Further elaboration at the groom's house includes the use of one or more Brahmans to conduct Vedic rites.

Many Banyan Hill marriages are remarriages for both spouses. No social opprobrium is attached to the woman who marries a second time ( jari ), nor to the woman who marries for a third ( sari ), but one who marries for a fourth time is referred to by a term ( phundi ) that connotes sexual looseness. Second and third marriages enter the realm of politics. Before such marriages are recognized as legal, the deserted husband has to be compensated. The amount is negotiated by the couple's headmen. A deserted husband whose wife has married a fourth time cannot claim compensation.

To avoid the expense of a marriage ceremony the parents of a virgin girl sometimes arrange to have her abducted by a boy they approve of as a son-in-law. "Captures"—marriages that have not been arranged by the girl's parents—also occur, but not frequently. The abductor knows that the marriage is not legal and that if he is not approved of by the girl and her parents, they have legal recourse.

Husband and Wife. In many ways the relationship Between husband and wife is biased in favor of the husband. When she marries, a wife leaves her natal home and moves to her husband's. In many daily situations she is expected to show her husband deference. For instance, if he is late in Returning home, she feeds the children but herself refrains from eating until he comes home. In the morning she gets up Before he does and carries out a ritual that implies she is worshiping him as if he were a god. She pours specially drawn water regarded as pure over one of his big toes and into one of her palms, and then she touches the water to her lips. Although in these and many other instances the wife has a subordinate role, some factors strengthen the wife's position in relation to her husband and his family. For a brief period the newly married couple live with the husband's parents, but soon they almost always move to a house of their own. This all but erases the possibility for a continuing servantlike relationship with an authoritative mother-in-law. Another important support for the wife is the gift ( pewa ) her parents Usually present to her when she marries. Often it consists of livestock such as goats, cows, or buffalo. Chickens are also a common pewa. Wealthier parents sometimes give land, such as a paddy field. Whatever the gift, a husband has no right to it: it provides a wife with an independent source of income, small or large, and it may be transferred by her in her will or before her death to whomever she wishes. Further support lies in the fact that at marriage a woman acquires a share of her husband's property, to be hers if she is widowed or abandoned. The births of children diminish the size of her share, since at birth they also acquire rights to a portion of the estate. But so long as she does not remarry, a wife's share is hers until her death. Only then does it revert to her husband's estate. It is significant too that natal homes of most wives are not more than 8 kilometers distant. Wives go home often, and the tie to parents and brothers is frequently strengthened by exchange of gifts. A wife sometimes returns from a funeral for someone in her natal lineage with a cow or a calf to be added to her pewa.

Two paths are open to a wife who is not happy with her husband: she may return to her natal home or run away with another man. Very often the first option is a precursor of the second.

The majority of the marriages are monogamous, but circumstances sometimes lead to polygyny. The most common reason is desire for a son in a sonless first marriage.

Gender-Based Division of Labor. Women's position in Magar society is enhanced by the essential and many-faceted part they play in the domestic economy. After men plow the fields, women break up the clods with mattocks. They plant and weed, carry wood, water, and manure. They care for the farm animals and do the milking. Although older women do not climb the tallest trees to collect fodder, they do gather heavy loads of leaves from the bushes and low-growing trees. From time to time women work heavy mills to extract oil from mustard seed. They spend much of every day processing food. In the very early morning they operate the grinding stones and hulling beams and winnow away the chaff. They also spend hours squatting by the firepit doing the cooking.

Other work, such as plowing, is strictly reserved for men, but many tasks may be done by either men or women and often are done by both together. Husbands and wives often join in group fishing, and although women mostly operate the hulling beams, when there is much hulling to be done, men frequently help. Men without daughters do the cooking when their wives are menstruating, and men also cook when traveling without women.

Socialization. Magar children are born into homes where tensions between adults are usually minimal and children are desired and liked. It is true that traditionally a boy was more wanted than a girl, yet daughters have always been highly regarded and treated with much affection. Unmarried girls of the family and lineage have high ritual value. Gifts given to them are considered to be like gifts to goddesses and are a way of obtaining religious merit. Daughters are also an important source of labor. It is hard to imagine some Magar farms operating successfully if daughters were not contributing many kinds of help.

Parents hope for as many children as possible. Their usefulness as labor and as supports in old age outweigh their costs as additional mouths to feed and bodies to clothe.

Children grow up in the center of the day-to-day life of the household. A nursing baby sleeps with the mother on a straw mat. During the day the baby spends many hours in a hammock slung between posts of the veranda. When the baby wakes or is fretful, the mother, or whoever else is nearby, gives the hammock a push. If rocking does not help, the infant is nursed and fondled. On trips away from the house, the mother carries the baby hung in a cloth across her back. Toilet training is gradual and without fuss. Weaning too is nontraumatic. A pregnant mother may try to hurry the weaning; otherwise a child is given the breast until the age of 3 or 4 years.

When a girl is about 3, her parents ceremoniously give her a new shirt, a rite of passage corresponding to the first haircutting of a 4- or 5-year-old boy. Both ceremonies honor the child and impress him or her with the parents' good wishes for the future. From the age of about 8 the child, whether girl or boy, is gradually asked to assist with Household or farm tasks, which are divided among the children following the same pattern as among the adults. By the time children are about 12, they can do almost all adult tasks and have become genuine assets to the household economy.

Although children are taught the appropriate formal gestures to show respect for their parents, for the most part relations between parents and children are quite informal. They all sit together on the house porch, or, if children alone are sitting there when their father comes into the yard or up on the porch, they do not get up. Also, if they are smoking, they do not feel obliged to stop.

Birth order is recognized terminologically among brothers and sisters. It counts in some ritual contexts and becomes politically significant in that a headman's eldest son usually inherits the office. Despite instances such as that one that favor the eldest, there is no shyness or avoidance among siblings.

Brothers and sisters play together throughout childhood and remain close throughout life. Once a year their relationship is expressed ritually when a brother goes to the home of one of his married sisters and she gives him an especially good meal and paints a multicolored tika on his forehead.

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