Husband Wife Relationship

To the extent permissible in a culture that so consistently segregates the genders and encourages an ethos of aggression, the husband-wife relationship is marked by affection and companionship. But matrimonial gestures of tenderness are often muted—say, when spouses smile while quietly uttering a few words on a village path, or when a husband gently tosses his wife a few betel nuts. Public tenderness is confined to same-gender relationships. Aloofness is common; cooperation is always tenuous and, at least for men, reluctant. Hence, the husband-wife relationship is unable truly to develop into empathetic intimacy and companionship. Traditional Iatmul marriages effected a kind of balance sustained by fear. A wife's behavior influenced her husband's success in warfare. If she acted immorally, he might be killed. Conversely, the husband's behavior influenced his wife's pregnancy. If he erred, she might miscarry. Perhaps it would be best to characterize Iatmul marriage as brief moments of loving affection in a relationship of tolerated, even relished, antagonism.

Husbands and wives almost never eat together. Iatmul households do not value communal dining. When a woman prepares a meal, she offers some food to those who are present. The rest is wrapped in banana leaves or left in the pot for absent kin to partake later. Since women cook, children frequently dine with their mothers. Even then, there is a sense that each person eats alone.

Spouses do not traditionally sleep together under the same mosquito net. Most men spend little time with their wives since they relax, nap, and socialize at the men's house. Yet men and women do make joint decisions, especially about gardening, economic matters, and those major efforts such as ritual and house-building that require the husband to feed other men.

A wife focuses on maintaining household harmony while her husband is more focused on communal affairs such as ritual (Hauser-Schaublin, 1977, p. 134). Matrimonial conflict over sexuality is common, especially when women adhere to postpartum taboos

(Hauser-Schaublin, 1977, p. 127). Husbands and wives may also fight over food.

Either spouse can initiate divorce. (Sometimes a disgruntled cowife will simply relocate to another residence, usually with agnates, but the marriage remains intact.) Custody is fluid. Young children tend to remain with their mother. If a wife leaves her husband, she may forfeit custody. Unless there is an explicit agreement of adoption, the children of divorcees retain membership in their father's patriline and share the inheritance.

The cowife relationship is tense. It often erupts into physical assault and fighting, usually over perceived imbalances in sex, work, and food. When cowives are hostile, suggests Hauser-Schaublin (1977, p. 132), their husband's role in the household becomes more secure. Cowife hostility, too, actually reduces domestic violence since neither woman wants to alienate her husband. Some Iatmul contend that a man's first wife is dominant; others deny the presence of any such rule, or assign this role only to an iai wife.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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