Husband Wife Relationship

Most Canela couples have affection if not romantic love for each other, even though marriage is principally for raising children and family matters. Some young couples clearly have romantic love for each other. However, almost all Canela judicial hearings are about marital disputes. Considering that extramarital sex was extensive, we might expect that spouses were jealous of each other. At times they surely were, so that the uncles had to suppress their nephews' bad feelings. Nevertheless, I consider that the Canela cultural attitude of favoring fun, joy, and presenting oneself as a generous person has had a lot to do with keeping spousal relationships light-hearted and warm.

Spouses eat together with their children, apart from the rest of their hearth group. They also sleep together, though sometimes a baby or a child may be between them. Since the Canela way of life accentuates group living, amusements, sports, and festivities, couples are not together most of the time. However, they may bathe together, farm almost alone with each other for weeks, and occasionally take time for trysts in the savannahs. Spouses make certain decisions together, but the hearth-group leaders make some other decisions and the wife's brothers and uncles make still others. While there is a gender division of tasks, most tasks are interchangeable when necessary.

The Canela practice strict monogamy. In 1959, a married man who took the virginity of a young girl thereby became married twice. The other Canela teased him mercilessly, but he finally paid the girl's family almost everything he possessed to get out of his secondly marriage.

Until 1975, the elders and the chiefs of the tribe did not allow a man to leave his wife while they both had children growing up, except for very unusual reasons. Currently, young men leave their wives and children for simple matters—sex jealousy being the principal one. A woman may want her husband to leave because he drinks too much and becomes abusive while drunk, because he does not bring in enough meat, or because he does not treat her female kin respectfully. These days, either the husband or the wife can initiate divorce, but the wife rarely does this. After divorce, the children always remain with their mother, but she allows their father to visit them at any time.

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