Courtship and Marriage

Despite the ideal that marriages were arranged, individualistic young men and women had considerable choice of partner.

From childhood on they [girls] were taught to make their own sentimental choices and to take the initiative in their relations with boys and later with men. Although boys were warned about the potential sorcery involved in playing with many women, they also used love magic to seduce desirable women. (McDowell, 1991, p. 203)

In the face of all Mundugumor conflicts about arranged marriages there exists a violent preference for individual selection of one's mate. Children who have been accustomed to fight even for their first drops of milk do not docilely accept prescribed marriages arranged for other people's convenience. (Mead, 1935/1963, p. 215)

Girls dressed to attract young men, and boys were on the lookout for interested young women. Girls did not restrict their activities to bachelors and often had affairs with married men.

From these sexual relationships developed the desire for marriage, and an insistent young woman almost always won her choice. However, the road to that marriage was not an easy one because of the serious rule of brother-sister exchange marriage. The ideal was that two men marry one another's sisters, that is, two men exchanged sisters. However, the girls' desires often caused considerable difficulty in these essentially public male arrangements. Trouble resulted when a young woman arranged to elope with her lover in order to marry the man of her choice. Three possible scenarios were common. First, perhaps the girl had already been promised in marriage to another man and that her elder brother (or even father) had already stipulated her marriage road in acquiring a wife for himself. That is, half of the exchange had already taken place and the second half awaited only her maturation. Her refusal to marry her brother's wife's brother (or father's wife's brother) was the source of considerable conflict. Second, even if she were not already promised, perhaps her lover did not have a sister to return to her brother (or other male kin). Fights were then inevitable as the sisterless man tried to defend himself against accusations of woman-stealing. He needed to find a distant classificatory sister or other female relative to use as a return. Only occasionally, if the young woman's family had more daughters than sons (i.e., extra women), they would accept a sacred flute in lieu of a human return, but such marriages were never as respectable as those executed by sister exchange. Finally, if the girl's lover had an appropriate sister, and if the families approved of the match, then a marriage could be arranged but only after considerable conflict and discussion.

Sometimes families took action to avoid the troubles that young women caused by arranging exchange marriages among very young adolescents and sending the young wives to the homes of their future spouses. (Such a marriage might also be the result of one of the above scenarios; a young woman gets her man, but then his much younger sister is sent to her brother as a wife.) These youngsters were not ready for marriage, and they did not have the maturity to fight for their own later choices. The young boy found himself with a wife not of his choosing, but he was free to add wives more attractive to him as he matured. Despite the enormous complications, marriage exchanges were the norm within the four river villages.

Marriages were even more complex because of an additional rule: ideally, marriages took place between third cross cousins (distant classificatory siblings). This rule was honored far more in the breach than in the observance. However, the rule that one should not marry within one's own patrilineal group was usually observed. A widow was supposed to marry a distant kinsman of her deceased husband, but she usually exercised some choice in the matter. Big men also frequently married foreign women, and these women helped to strengthen their households both economically and politically.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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