Marriage Defining Marriage

Before discussing the three major forms of marriage, it is useful to discuss definitions of marriage itself. While marriage is often believed to be a universal feature of culture, it is a difficult feature to define. Radcliffe-Brown (1950, pp. 11-12, 50) defined marriage as a transfer of rights in the new spouse. These are rights of sexual access, rights to claim offspring, and rights to the spouse's labor. In this definition, Radcliffe-Brown recognized cross-cultural variability within each set of rights while emphasizing that marriage is a cultural creation, since it consists of rights and obligations rather than behavior. The social and behavioral tie we call marriage involves several of the following behavioral elements, most of which were suggested by Murdock (1949). The idea that marriage consists of a sexual relationship plus several other traits also makes a useful working definition. These traits include:

a sexual relationship that is socially approved childbirth that is socially approved economic cooperation and sharing coresidence of spouses expected duration for some years, at least a ritual or transaction marking entrance to marriage.

Some foraging societies have little or no marker for entering marriage. In some with men's houses in each village, spouses do not constantly live together. In some societies people move through several marriages and divorces over a lifetime, so durability is questionable. For example, among the forest period Ache, a foraging group of South America, the average duration of first marriage was only 7.7 months for women and 14.3 months for men. By age 30, women on average had been in over 10 marriages (Hill and Hurtado, 1996, pp. 230, 245).

The Na, an ethnic group within China, presents the most recent challenge to the universality of marriage. In this matrilineal culture, most men and women live in the home into which they were born. Most sex before recent decades occurred through men's furtive visits to women's bedrooms at night. Both women and men had almost complete sexual freedom, except that women were required to take a passive role, always receiving or rejecting male sexual visitors rather than going to visit on their own initiative. Members of Na society can point out the genitors of most children, but these genitors have no claims over children and no obligations to them, and this makes no difference to the status of the child. Marriage does exist in the case of the only son in a family. Without daughters, the family line cannot be passed down. Complex transactions and rituals mark entrance into marriage. The wife and her offspring are adopted into the husband's family. The spouses have rights of sexual access to each other, and each is obliged to work for the benefit of the larger family, and she can eventually succeed to the position of female household chief, should her mother-in-law die. It is forbidden for the wife to return to her own home (Hua, 2001, pp. 185-236, 303-334). If we focus on Na marriage being practiced by a minority of members we would conclude that they are an exception to the universality of marriage. However, if we focus on marriage existing as a cultural institution known by all, we would only regard the Na as unusual, rather than exceptional. The Na have marriage in Radcliffe-Brown's sense of a set of rights transmitted, but not in the sense of behaviors that are typical of the bulk of group members.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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