Courtship and Marriage

Everyone is expected to marry after a certain age. In rural areas, those who are unmarried in their late twenties begin to bring shame to their family and those who die before marriage are treated as marginal, if not lesser, human beings in mortuary rites (Du, 2002). Severe chronic health problems were usually associated with the extremely rare cases in which individuals remained unmarried throughout their lives. The most important considerations of marriage choice are physical strength, diligence and working skills, a gentle personality, and a clean family background, especially not being accused of possessing a dangerous spirit called tawr. Most villagers found their own spouses. Typically between the ages of 13 and 16 in the 1990s, and between 15 and 18 prior to the 1980s, Lahu teenagers in rural Lancang started to "play with boys" or "play with girls," activities serving as a prelude to finding a spouse. A traditional courtship ritual is to snatch the headcloth or hat from a member of the opposite sex and run away in a joking manner. Through such a ritual, a boy or girl initiates a semiprivate conversation with someone he or she is interested in or attracted to. While most Lahu youth find their own spouses, there are varying degrees of parental intervention in mate choice. One is called "guided by parents," in which parents offer suggestions with no binding obligations. Another kind is called "matched (arranged) by parents," in which parents arrange marriages for their children regardless of the latter's desires. Although the Chinese state has outlawed arranged marriage since the 1950s, it still occurred sporadically in some Lahu villages until the 1980s, when the strict implementation of family-planning policies required a couple to reach minimum ages before they could marry. Widows and widowers are free to remarry and there are no normative preferences concerning who they remarry.

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