Courtship and Marriage

Before the 1960s, Na did not generally marry. Chinese policy attempted to force the Na to marry during the Cultural Revolution, but beginning in the 1980s allowed more flexibility. Currently, some Na marry, usually those holding government jobs, those working out of the area, or those whose households need members of the opposite sex. Others choose to engage in sese relations in various forms. Na generally describe sese today as more stable than in the past. Most Na will engage in sexual relations as adults, although some choose not to.

Men and women come together in a variety of ways, and may take advantage of any of these opportunities to develop new relationships. Through labor exchange, village activities and celebrations, funerals, or festivals, Na interact with people from outside their households. In addition, through school and daily activities, such as marketing, Na routinely come into contact with the opposite sex. Young people go to video showings in the evenings, and some of these include dancing (in public, most Na are more comfortable dancing with the same sex). Karaoke has been incorporated into many village celebrations. Younger Na men report that one way to get to know someone is to offer a ticket to the movie, or a ride home on your bicycle.

Most Na believe that men approach women to request relations. While Na customs do not prohibit a woman from making the first verbal advances, Na reported that this is simply not done and is perceived as risky. A woman might develop a bad reputation or be laughed at. Women are expected to make their interest clear in other ways than direct verbal invitation.

When involved in sese relations, Na may exchange gifts, but these are not prescribed. In the past, common gifts from women to men included handwoven articles of clothing, which women sometimes embroidered. In basin villages, where few women weave or embroider, these gifts are becoming uncommon. Common gifts from men to women were and still are items of purchase—jewelry, hair decorations, and textiles. A man who wishes to engage in stable sese with a woman may choose to bring gifts to the woman's mother and elders in her household. An elder man of his household may accompany him if he is young. A woman is never forced to accept a suitor. The suitor is petitioning to have his relationship to the woman recognized and to have some access to the household, since the woman resides there.

Both sexes describe physical attractiveness (tallness, large eyes, high nose) as an important quality in a lover. Na believe that personality traits are also of importance in a lover, including a sense of humor, a quick wit and lively tongue, a vivacious personality, kindness, and ability. Excellence in some skill (weaving, hunting, dancing, and singing) will also contribute to one's desirability as a lover. Women sometimes describe lovers of longer duration as desirable because they are responsible and sober, and exhibit appropriate and respectful behavior.

Na sometimes describe sese relationships as superior to marriage because only feelings are involved, and people do not choose partners for mercenary reasons, nor does the stress of economics come between couples. Sese, they say, creates less conflict than marriage, as partners do not live together or depend on each other. Furthermore, any conflict that develops is easily diffused simply by separation for a few days (which occurs in most sese). Some Na describe marriage as difficult because, if a new household is formed, the new household is too small, and the couple may not have enough hands and generations for all of the tasks of farm work, livestock, household, and childcare. Na believe that it is also difficult if one spouse moves into the other's household. In the case of a man, there is thought to be high potential for conflict between him and his wife's male relatives; in the case of a woman it is thought that she will miss her own household.

Other respondents discussed the advantages of marriage as bringing more stability to a relationship in which the man takes more responsibility. In their opinion, a man would take more responsibility for his own children than his nieces and nephews, and for contributing to farm work and household labor when he was doing this for his own children. These respondents felt that women did more work than men in a system of walking marriages, and that the way to make men responsible was through marriage. Another advantage that some married respondents mentioned was that they could control their resources. There were not so many mouths to feed. However, most Na will say that both systems are good and that the most important thing in deciding is to look at "conditions." In general, Na will marry when they are preparing to have children. Those Na in the village who did not have children were believed to have been unable to produce children or abstained from sexual relations because they did not desire children.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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