Courtship and Marriage

Most first marriages, it will be recalled, were by child betrothal, which sometimes occurred when the girl was as young as 5. As might be expected, therefore, young women appear to have exerted little influence over the choice of their husband. It is not clear, though, whether a young man had much greater freedom. As Mead describes matters, the boy's father selected a likely mate for him, largely on the basis of past relationships and other social and political considerations. The father then approached the girl's father, who decided for or against the match on much the same grounds. There is little evidence that love was a major element in the choice; the expectation was that, as the young husband "grew" his "little wife" with food, the pair would grow to love one another with much the same affection as siblings raised together.

Child betrothal involved the young girl leaving for her husband's home—typically, for a few days at a time, and then for longer periods. At some point, there was a betrothal ceremony, but little is known of its form. The young wife's menarche ceremony was held at her husband's hamlet, and he played an important role in its ritual. Some time later, the major part of her bridewealth was paid, usually some dozen rings and other shell valuables. Later still, at a time of their own choosing, the pair consummated the marriage.

Virtually all females married, though a few men— usually those with tinea skin disease or mental impairment—did not. In Arapesh ideology—and, according to Mead, also in practice—unfortunates who remained bachelors because of skin disease likely would revenge their bitterness by taking up sorcery or trafficking in exuviae.

An analysis of Mead's data suggests that between a half and two thirds of first betrothals failed. Major reasons, according to Mead, included the premature death of one partner, an age mismatch such that a young wife matured faster than her husband, a young husband taking an outsider for a second wife, and, very occasionally, physical or mental defect. Although some young girls were made miserable by an unhappy pairing, there is no mention of them openly provoking a break-up. In fact, divorce as such was virtually unknown; rather, a marital split was camouflaged as a military abduction of the wife by a new lover, the kidnapped woman being as complicit in her seizure as the kidnapper and his kin. Women were more likely to be widowed than men, and about three quarters of widows remarried within their dead husbands' clans, the sentiment being that they should remain with their children, among his kinfolk.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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