Courtship and Marriage

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The Maasai practice arranged marriages, and courtship at young age does not normally lead to marriage (see section on "Sexuality"). Parents, in particular the father or, if he is absent, another adult guardian on the father's side, are the active actors in choosing marriage partners for their children. Parents decide on bridewealth as well as the practical arrangements of the wedding. The wedding is divided into two sequential events: the departure from the bride's home, and the arrival at the husband's. The major ceremony is upon arrival; the husband's family celebrates the acquisition of a young fertile woman who will bestow many children on their family. In the evening of the wedding ceremony, the bridegroom, his best man, and his age mates gather in the house to bless the girl and give her a new name, a name of the age group to be used only by them. The collective name giving symbolizes their common access to the wife of an age mate.

In the first year of marriage, or until she has built her own house, the young wife lives with her mother-in-law or another adult female in-law in the homestead. The position of a wife in her husband's family and the stability of the marriage are strengthened by the birth of the first child. The number of children a woman has and the way she cares for them are the ultimate measure of her prestige as a woman and of her value to the man and the lineage into which she is married. Therefore the first sign of pregnancy is a great relief to a young wife.

Among the Maasai practically all adults marry, even the physically impaired (Talle, 1995). All Maasai have a moral obligation to multiply and prosper. However, there are a few men (olsinoni) who never marry because they have "no luck" with women. There are also girls who remain unmarried in their parents home and conceive by occasional lovers. The children they give birth to belong to their natal family. Often parents of such girls do not have sons, and thus take the children of a daughter (preferably sons) as legitimate heirs to the family herd. Maasai say that some fathers love their daughters so much that they refuse to give them away to authoritarian husbands. The "girls of the homestead" (sg. entito enkang) are considered to be proud and obstinate compared with other girls—the reason for this is that they are not ruled by a husband (Talle, 1988).

After marriage, both men and women continue to have sex with other partners. As noted above, men of the same age groups are permitted to have sex with each other's wives at their discretion. Maasai seldom divorce, except sporadically in the case of a barren wife. If a woman runs away from her husband, she has to leave the children behind (unless they are nursing) with the husband and his family. Children are considered the "property" of their fathers and reckoned to belong to their lineage.

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Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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