Courtship and Marriage

All Iatmul are expected to marry. Nearly everyone does so except people with physical deformities or cognitive impairments. However, it is particularly important for a man to have a spouse. Hence, there are more single women than single men (Weiss, 1995). Men depend on women for daily meals. Women need male labor only intermittently (Weiss, 1990, p. 338). Unmarried adults are not formally barred from politico-ritual authority. Yet, unless they are elderly widows and widowers, they tend to be marginal.

Iatmul practice several marriage patterns: sister exchange, second-generation cross-cousin marriage

(a man weds his father's mother's brother's son's daughter [FMBSD], a woman called iai), and elective marriage. Only the latter formally admits love prior to the union. The other forms of marriage are usually arranged by the spouses' kin. They forge alliances and, most importantly, instance maternal sentiment since, when a man weds his FMBSD, he marries a woman his father calls "mother" (Silverman, 2001). The cultural sentiment underlying iai marriage—that a man (the father) should "get his mother back" (his son's bride)—is equally strong for men and women. No marriage can occur unless both spouses consent. Men and women can, and do, refuse betrothals. Today, romantic love and companionship are increasingly important ideals in marriage, especially among the young. This change is part of a wider assimilation of "modern" personhood that includes individualism, the importance of personal choice in a capitalist consumer economy, and the rise of coeducational settings such as schools, urban areas, and disco dances.

Many men wed polygynously—usually two wives, but sometimes upwards of four or five. This way, the husband can draw on a broad economic base of female labor. Today, male prestige is largely detached from the ceremonial exchange of female labor products such as baskets. Therefore it is less clear, even to Iatmul themselves, why some men still desire multiple spouses.

Divorce is acceptable and relatively common. It entails mainly the return of brideprice. The typical divorce occurs while the spouses are young, and the husband weds a second wife. Divorcees tend to remarry. Sometimes, a woman's first husband receives compensation for his brideprice from her second spouse. Widows and widowers can remarry, but surviving spouses who are elderly tend to remain single.

Both genders desire hardworking spouses and complain loudly about laziness. Some Iatmul court to raise their prestige or access to magical and/or material resources.

There is no formal wedding. Typically, the bride publicly spends the night with the groom in his house or garden shelter. Later, her brothers may march to the groom's house to demand a preliminary token of bride-price, which is negotiated by the spouses' kin. Husbands also perform groomservice. Ideally, iai marriage entails long-term balanced reciprocity between affines.

Traditionally, there was little premarital sex. Men were initiated into the cult prior to intercourse, and they were admonished to marry before sexual activity.

The brief period after marriage is awkward for both spouses, who must adjust to new relationships, new obligations, and, for one spouse at least, a new residence. There is nothing on par with a Western honeymoon, or even much public interaction between newlyweds.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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