Husband Wife Relationship

Besides being a union of two families, marriage is also a union of a husband and a wife. Their shaved hair is mixed during the marriage ceremony, and once married they share the fortunes of their children and livestock, working together to safeguard the interests of each other and the family. However, this does not mean that marriage is characterized by love and affection. Men are usually anywhere from 10 to 50 years older than their wives, and a level of respect is expected to exist between them. Genuine affection may exist, but husbands in particular are forbidden to display it, lest men take it as a sign of weakness. When a man comes home from a journey he is not even supposed to greet his wife. Men who seem to have excessive love for their wives may explain it away as a result of bewitchment.

In practice there is a lot of variation from the ideal of peaceable wedded interdependence. While some wives dutifully care for their husbands, there are some who withhold food, who are lax in other responsibilities, or who generally behave disagreeably. Likewise, there are husbands who sell animals without regard for the needs of wives and children, who beat their wives often, and start needless quarrels. Sometimes in polygynous households a husband may show preferential treatment, selling or slaughtering one wife's animals more frequently, disproportionately allocating resources, or failing to sleep regularly with all his wives. Women have a right to their husband's sexuality, so a man who is neglectful may subject himself to external criticism. For their part, cowives often get along well, but (real or perceived) favoritism leads to jealousy and quarrels.

Separation is common, though divorce is rare. Before children are born, a woman's family may return the bridewealth and negotiate another marriage for her. However, a woman's position becomes difficult once she has children, since they will remain with her husband. Likewise, it is difficult for a man to divorce. He may chase his wife away to her natal family, but when the community perceives that he has acted unjustly, they may force him either to accept his wife back or to release all of her livestock and children. Commonly, women who believe their husbands treat them badly may run away (kitala). This is a powerful tool for woman, as it will be incumbent on her husband to locate and negotiate with her relatives to return her.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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