Courtship and Marriage

Marriage is considered essential for all men and women, and indeed all women and almost all men are married at some point of time. All (first) marriages are arranged by the families of the bride and groom and wife-givers and wife-takers are considered of equal status. Theoretically, engagements can take place even at birth; suckling babies can be engaged and even married, and until divorce is declared these unions are valid. Invalidation can take many forms and have several reasons, but a man can repudiate his wife only after he has reached or completed the pubertal phase. In such early engagements the bridewealth is very low. Unlike a boy, a girl does not have the formal right to dissolve an engagement; if her family wants to annul an engagement, a community decision must be taken, and her father then has to pay the boy's family whatever amount they ask for as compensation. In practice, however, depending on how influential her family is and how resourceful the girl's mother is, engagements are annulled.

Proposals are always sent by the boy's family; it is for the girl's family to accept or reject. It is said that "it's the boy's side which goes asking," but it is also said that "a man takes a woman, and not the other way around." Once two families are genuinely interested in entering into a marriage alliance, they begin negotiations in earnest. These center around the financial transactions, which depend largely on the economic status of both families. This is the time to raise the question of the bridewealth and the compulsory Islamic mahr or dower. The latter is reserved for the bride in case of divorce and is related to the actual economic status of the groom's family. The amount of bridewealth is related to the intrinsic "worth" of the bride and her family. Thus a virgin "fetches" much more than a widow, a beautiful girl more than an ugly one, and generally a rich man's daughter more than a poor man's. In order to reach a compromise between financial ability and individual and family honor bargaining, both unofficial and official, can go on for months, but before the agreement is finally reached the amount of the bridewealth must be fixed. For the wedding to take place, it must be paid in cash or kind, or in the form of brideservice over a stipulated period of time.

A young widow may marry beyond the kin group of her former husband only if she has no young children by her deceased husband; if she does, junior levirate, though not compulsory, is preferred by his family. No similar restrictions or preferences are imposed on widowers.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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