Marriage in Tribal Societies

Marriage in Tribal Societies

Marriage in Tribal Societies

Marriage in Tribal Societies

Excerpt

The papers in the present symposium deal with diverse aspects of marriage. Three give accounts of ethnographical observations in African tribal societies and the fourth offers a re-analysis of data extracted from that treasury of othnographical riches, Malinowski's Trobriand corpus.

So much is now known about the customs and institutions of marriage in all human societies that it might seem doubtful if anything new can be added. Nor are there conspicuous lacunae in the theoretical study of the subject. It so happens that Malinowski, Lowie and Radcliffe-Brown, surely the three foremost authorities of their time on the comparative sociology of marriage, all left comprehensive statements of their conclusions (Malinowski 1929; Lowie 1933; Radcliffe-Brown 1950); and the general principles they set forth do not seem to me to be invalidated by later research. Add the massive investigations of Lévi-Strauss and his colleagues, as well as such compendious recent works as African Systems of Kinship and Marriage and the Survey of African Marriage and Family Life, and there would seem to be little an ethnographer can now contribute save further illustrations of wellknown facts and principles.

Such, indeed, is the main intention of the four essays collected together in this volume. Conceptual and theoretical considerations are kept well under control. But they are not irrelevant; for however particular an ethnographic inquiry may be, direction is given to it by implicit conceptual categories and theoretical criteria. And even so thoroughly explored a terrain as marriage in, tribal society may yield unexpected theoretical surprises to a new approach.

An apt illustration occurs in Dr La Fontaine's paper. Like the Taita and some other East African peoples with developed patrilineal lineage systems, the Gisu do not prohibit marriage between agnates outside the range of the minimal lineage. In fact, marriage with lineage kin beyond the prohibited degrees is common. But, says Dr La Fontaine, after marriage the affinal relationship ousts the descent relationship. The individuals are the same people as before. But before the marriage, the husband and his close patrilineal kin defined the wife and her minimal lineage as co-descendants of cmmon patrilineal ancestors. They were therefore vested with rights and duties, entitled to loyalties and regarded with the sentiments that are mandator for patrilineal kin. Now, after the marriage, their social relations undergo what looks like a striking reversal. Instead, for example, of the familiarity which is normal between kin they must behave with the mutual . . .

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