Sinhalese - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Most marriages are arranged between the two families, with a strong preference for cross-cousin marriage. Marriage implies caste equality, but with a double standard: to preserve the status of a microcaste (pavula), women must marry men of equal or higher status within the caste; men, however, may have sexual relations with women of inferior status without threatening their family's status. Among the Kandyans, who are governed by Kandyan law, polyandry is rare, though villagers say it can be convenient for all Concerned. Polygyny is also rare and may amount to no more than the husband's appropriation of sexual services from a low-ranking female servant. The bride normally comes to live with her husband, and this pattern (called deega ) establishes a relationship of mutual aid and equality between the husband and his wife's kin. In the less common binna residence, in contrast, the groom—who is usually landless—goes to live with his wife's parents (matrilocal residence) and must work for his father-in-law. Dowry is rarely paid unless a woman marries a man of higher status within the caste (hypergamy). The marriage may not involve a ceremony if it occurs between equals and within a pavula. Among the Kandyans, property is held individually and is not fragmented by the dissolution of marriage, which is easy and common. Among the Low Country Sinhalese, who are governed by Roman-Dutch law, Matrilocal residence is very rare and hypergamy, coupled with dowry, is more common. After marriage the couple's property is merged and in consequence the allied families resist the marriage's dissolution.

Domestic Unit. The smallest kin group is the commensal unit or nuclear family: a wife, unmarried children, and husband. Among traditional Kandyan Sinhalese, there may be more than one commensal unit in a house, but each has its own cooking area. Westernized families adopt the European pattern even for complex households.

Inheritance. In sharp contrast to Indian practices property is divided equally among all children, including women, although wealthy families control a daughter's property and use it as an instrument of marital alliance; among wealthy Families, dowry may be paid in lieu of inheritance.

Socialization. There is a strong preference for male Children, who may receive better care; the infant mortality rate for girls is higher. Girls are expected to work harder than boys and may be given significant household chores as young as age 5 or 6, and they may be taken out of school at an early age even though education is compulsory for all children aged 5 to 14. Children are cared for by their mother, with whom they sleep except in highly Westernized households. Children are expected to show respect to their elders. Curiosity, initiative, and hobbies are not encouraged. Schools repeat this pattern by emphasizing rote instruction and avoiding vocational subjects. Especially among the landed and high castes, the family is strongly authoritarian: deference to one's parents and acceptance of their decisions is required, on penalty of excommunication.

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