Marriage and Family (Explaining Human Culture)

Return to Teaching eHRAF: Tile View | Table View

View exercise overview

Exercise ID: 1.42
Class size: Any
Level(s): I II III
Source: Produced by HRAF

Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? Yes
Subject selection: Multiple subjects specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Marriage, Family, Residence, Kinship, Polygyny, Arranged Marriage, Exchange
Region selection: open (student choice)
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Set by teacher
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable:

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? Yes
Assignments for students to complete in groups? Yes
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No

Benjamin Gonzalez, Daniel McCloskey, Carol R. Ember, Human Relations Area Files

These eHRAF Teaching exercises are designed to accompany the Marriage and Family module in Explaining Human Culture. This module gives a general picture of what we have learned from cross-cultural research about variation in marriage ceremonies, economic transactions at marriage, rules governing whom one can or cannot marry, how marriages are arranged, the form and type of marriage, the frequency and reasons for divorce, and the form of family households. The exercises included below are intended to convey both the range of cross-cultural variation and outline ways of considering and engaging with that information.

Exercise 1: Marriage Ceremonies

Marriages across cultures are often recognized for the various ceremonies and traditions that accompany them. In the Marriage and Family module found on Explaining Human Culture, you read about the marriage ceremonies and their relationship to other aspects of culture. Now you will use eHRAF’s database of ethnographic research to read about the variety of marriage ceremonies across cultures.

Using eHRAF World Culture’s “Browse DOCUMENTS” function, search for the following excerpts about marriage ceremonies in selected non-industrial societies. You may also click on the permalinks for each document below and use the drop down menu in the top right corner to find the listed page of that document.

● Copper Inuit (ND08); Pryde, Duncan. 1972. Nunaga: My Land, My Country. Edmonton, Alta.: M.G. Hurtig Ltd.; p. 110-111; Also Richard G. Condon; Inuit Behavior and Seasonal Change in the Canadian Arctic; page 69;
● Hopi (NT09); Armin W. Geertz; Children of Cottonwood: Piety and Ceremonialism in Hopi Indian Puppetry; pages 181-183;
● Sinhalese (AX04); Nur Yalman; Under the Bo Tree: Studies in Caste, Kinship, and Marriage in the Interior of Ceylon; page 164-167;
● Trobriands (OL06):
○ Ellis Silas; A Primitive Arcadia; page 150;
○ Bronislaw Malinowski; Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea; page 54;
● Tukano (SQ19); Irving Goldman; The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon; pages 137-142;

1. Describe the marriage practices of each culture featured above. What types of traditions make up each ceremony, if one is practiced? Make sure to note the variety of ceremonies that may be practiced in each culture as well.
2. The ceremonies (or lack thereof) described above range from elaborate to simple. Arrange each culture on a continuum of marriage ceremony complexity. Which cultures have a noted lack of ceremonial traditions? What marriage practices do they have instead of ceremonies?
3. What common themes do you notice between the different ceremonies? What roles do men and women play across the ceremonies? What kind of role does the ceremony play in the society? Is there economic transaction or symbolic importance involved?

Exercise 2: Marriage transactions

In the Marriage and Family module in Explaining Human Culture, you read about the wide range of transactions that societies use to initiate or formalize a marriage. These transactions vary not only in form (e.g., goods given, services given), who receives them (e.g., bride’s family, equal exchange, newly married couple), but also how substantial they are. And some societies have no transactions at all.

You will be reading about bride price (bridewealth), bride service, sister exchange (brother-sister exchange), gift exchange, and the absence of transactions. Please review these definitions in the glossary of the Marriage and Family module.

Using the “Browse DOCUMENTS” function in eHRAF World Cultures, search for the following excerpts about marriage transactions in selected nonindustrial societies. You may also click on the permalinks for each document below and use the drop down menu in the top right corner to find the listed page of that document.

● Nuer (FJ22): Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (Edward Evan). 1946. “Nuer Bridewealth.” Africa Vol. 16: 247–57, pp. 247, 256
● Wolof (MS30); David W. Ames; Plural Marriage Among The Wolof In The Gambia: With A Consideration Of Problems Of Marital Adjustment And Patterned Ways Of Resolving Tensions; page 55-58;
● Taiwan Hokkien (AD05); Chen, Chung-min. 1983. Ying-Ting: A Cultural-Ecological Study of a Chinese Mixed Cropping Village in Taiwan. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Xerox University Microfilms, pp. 147.
● Fox (NP05): Joffe, Natalie Frankel. 1963. “The Fox of Iowa.” In Acculturation in Seven American Indian Tribes, 259–332. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, pp. 266, 307.
● Tukano (SQ19): Goldman, Irving. 1963. “The Cubeo: Indians of the Northwest Amazon.” In Illinois Studies in Anthropology, x, 305. Urbana , Illinois: University of Illinois Press, p. 122.
● Ona (SH04); Martin Gusinde; The Fireland Indians: Vol. 1. The Selk’nam, On The Life And Thought Of A Hunting People Of The Great Island Of Tierra Del Fuego; page 464;

After reading the above excerpts while taking note of the marriage transactions in each culture, answer the questions below, either alone or in small groups. Make sure to cite the author and page when referring to specific information from an ethnographic source.

1. Summarize the marriage transaction practices of each culture represented.
a. What type(s) of transaction(s) do they use, if any?
b. How substantial are the transactions?
c. To whom (e.g., bride’s kin, husband’s kin, bride, married couple) does the gift, payment, or service go?
d. In what ways might each transaction system affect other aspects of the culture?
2. Focusing on the example of the Wolof, what kinds of obligations regarding transactions accompany a couple’s divorce or the death of a partner? Who has to “pay,” whether in service or price?
3. As cultures shift and become exposed to different practices, systems such as marriage transactions change over time. Which of the above excerpts mention ways the culture has changed or begun to change in their marriage transactions? In what ways are they changed/changing?

Next, search for the subsistence type of each of the above cultures. This can be done by clicking on “Browse Cultures on eHRAF, searching the culture by name, clicking on “Culture Summary”, and scrolling down to “Subsistence and Commercial Activities.” Make note of the main type of subsistence for each culture and, again individually or in groups, answer the following questions.

4. Does there seem to be a relationship between type of marriage transaction and type of subsistence? If so, what is it?
5. Are your observations the same as Evascu (1975) (which can be found on pages 9 and 10 of the marriage module)?
6. Try to theorize why this relationship might exist; why might there be a relationship between subsistence and marriage transactions?

Exercise 3: Arranged marriage

While it is easy to imagine marriage practices as either arranged marriage or individual choice marriage, in reality there is more of a continuum where arranged marriage or complete individual choice serve as extremes.

For this exercise, we will be using the “Browse DOCUMENTS” function of eHRAF. First, find the following documents using the permalinks provided. Then use the drop down menu in the top right corner to find the listed page of that document.

● Central Thai (AO07); Sumālī Bamrungsuk; Love And Marriage: Mate Selection in Twentieth-Century Central Thailand; page 34;
● Kuna (SB05); Karin E. Tice; Kuna Crafts, Gender, and the Global Economy; page 45;
● Kurds (MA11); Fredrik Barth; Father’s Brother’s Daughter Marriage in Kurdistan; page 167;
● Korean (AA01); Sten Bergman and Frederic Whyte; In Korean Wilds and Villages; pages 51-52;
● Copper Inuit (ND08); Richard G. Condon; Inuit Youth: Growth and Change in the Canadian Arctic; page 154;
● Serbs (EF06); Jeremija M. Pavlovic; Folk Life and Customs in the Kragujevac Region of the Jasenica in Sumdaija; page 109;

Once you have read these pages, particularly the paragraphs marked as being about marriage, either alone or in small groups, address the questions or issues below. Make sure you cite the author and page when referring to specific information from an ethnographic source.

1. Order these cultural practices from most choice to most arranged. Consider carefully the reasons why you are ordering them the way you are, and write/discuss your reasoning for each.
2. Across all six examples, what types of similar themes do you see regarding gender and social status? Which types of people tend to have more power in marriage decision-making among these examples? What are some key differences between the examples?
3. Focusing on the passages concerning the Kuna and the Central Thai answer the following questions. How have the customs in these cultures changed over time? Why might they have changed as they did? What does this tell us about the fixity/malleability of culture?
4. Consider the example concerning the Copper Inuit and compare it to the example about Korean culture. In what ways are their systems of arranging marriage different? What might these systems tell us about the purpose of marriage in each society?

Exercise 4: Polygyny

While monogamy is generally the norm in the Western world, that is not generally the case in the rest of the world. In fact, polygamy, or plural marriage, is very common throughout the world. The most common form of polygamy is polygyny where a single husband has multiple wives at the same time. Polyandry, where a single woman has multiple husbands, is very rare. Polygyny itself, however, is not the same everywhere and there are a few fairly distinct forms. Three of these forms are: sororal polygyny (marriage to sisters), non-sororal polygyny, and limited polygyny.

For this exercise, we will be using the “Browse DOCUMENTS” function of eHRAF. First, find the following documents using the permalinks provided. Then use the drop down menu in the top right corner to find the listed page of that document. Look for the sections on marriage, particularly the paragraphs marked with the OCM subject “Polygamy.” (595)

● Haitians (SV03); Melville Jean Herskovits; Life in a Haitian Valley; page 115;
● Kapauku (OJ29); Leopold J. Pospisil; Kapauku Papuan Economy; page 35;
● Ojibwa (NG06); Alanson Buck Skinner; Notes on the Eastern Cree and Northern Saulteaux; page 151:
● Dogon (FA16); Denise Paulme and Freida Schutze; Social Organization of the Dogon (French Sudan); page 330;
● Guarani (SM04); Barbara Anne Ganson; Better Not Take My Manioc: Guarani Religion, Society, and Politics in the Jesuit Missions of Paraguay; page 43;
● San (FX01); Richard Lee; The !Kung Bushmen of Botswana; page 358;
● Mundurucu (SQ13); Yolanda Murphy; Women of the Forest; page 172;
● Hopi (NT09); Alice Schlegel; Hopi Family Structure and the Experience of Widowhood; page 43;

Once you have read these pages, either alone or in small groups, address the questions or issues below. Make sure you cite the author and page when referring to specific information from an ethnographic source.

1. Before investigating different forms of polygyny, consider the two examples included of monogamy, specifically the Hopi and the Mundurucu. What are the reasons given for why each culture practices monogamy?
2. Both the !Kung and the Ojibwa practice, at least in part, sororal polygyny. Consider the provided passages about these cultures and attempt to define sororal polygyny. Then examine the passages about the Kapauku and Haitians and attempt to define non-sororal polygyny. What is the main difference between these two systems?
3. Now that you have defined these terms, compare and contrast the !Kung and the Ojibwa with the Kapauku and Haitians. What are the differences in the dynamics of sororal and non-sororal polygyny? How does this affect the lives of those participating in these systems?
4. The third type of polygyny with which we are currently concerned is limited polygyny. This is a system where polygyny is permissable, but restricted to a smaller segment of the population in some way. Consider the Dogon and Guarani. What are different factors that limit the extent of polygyny in these societies?
5. Finally, take the examples of one of the three types of polygyny discussed and compare and contrast it against the two examples given of monogamy. Discuss the similarities and differences that you see in these systems and in the lives of those who participate in these differing systems.