The basic understanding of marriage is that it is a union of a man and woman for the purpose of starting a family. However, after extensive anthropological studies on the subject, the definition of marriage surpasses the perspective that has been held for a long time. The definition of marriage differs across cultures. According to Stockard, marriage as a phenomenon is a global culture; nonetheless, it does not mean that it is taken or understood in a similar manner by different cultures (6). With issues such as same-sex marriage being discussed in varied fields be it legal, cultural, or ethical fields, it stands significant to have an in-depth conceptualization of marriage. This paper is set to give a comprehensive understanding of marriage in the process using the Sambia people and those in Dadi’s family as case studies.
Since the beginning of civilization, the context of family has stood as the pillar of society. Consequently, from such a premise the phenomenon of marriage, which is defined as the legal, and binding process of bringing a man and woman together in union, has found its existence. Stockard defines marriage as a socially or ritually accepted union, in some instances, contract between spouses that fashions a right as well as obligation between themselves, their children as well as their extended families (7). However, there has always existed the argument of how accurate this notion is. A number of studies such as those conducted by Strong, Christine, and Theodore have indicated otherwise (79-83). For instance, due to the cultures of sexuality, the norm is always placed on the union of man and woman; however, in the twenty-first century, the LGBT have advocated for a change in such a view. In the Netherlands, the Dutch find it legal, cultural acceptable as well as ethical for same-sex marriage, which is not the case in parts of the U.S. and subject to death in some African countries. From such an example, it is evident that marriage is a complex anthropological phenomenon. As mentioned earlier, marriages are perceived differently in different cultures and as a result, a broader and more inclusive definition must be coined for the same,
Marriage in the Sambia Community
Masculinity is a factor that drives the Sambia people. Marriage serves as an additional ritual that males have to undergo in their quest to true manhood. According to Herdt, men in the Sambia society only earn respect when they get married, and sire children (16). The Sambia people view women as inferior members of the community, and their primary purpose is to bring a man to manhood. It is for this reason that Herdt presents the assertion that a wife is sexual property that other men in the community recognize (18). Polygamy is practiced in villages that have several Jerungdu. Powerful men have several wives at the expense of other men. Sometimes, Sambia society trades its women with different clans, even unfriendly groups. In this community, therefore, the ratio of women to men is rather low.
The Sambia people have three ways to get wives: infant arranged marriage, sibling exchange, and bride service. The Sambia people are also known to conduct infant betrothal, an event that sees the arranged marriage of a daughter immediately after birth. According to Herdt, this strengthens inter-clan or village relations subsequently bringing peace between hostile entities (56). Additionally, such unions see the clans involved share food as well as additional assistance in times of need. Other than through infant betrothal, the Sambia people get a wife through sibling exchange. Coles states that the most pragmatic as well as popular method is where the male members exchange sisters as spouses to each other (79). The Sambia people resorted to bride services in instances where a man is unable to produce an infant. In such cases, a man gives himself to an older man with daughters or sisters hoping to be given one of them, which is rare, considering the pride which is held by Sambia men. It is worth noting that a woman obtained as a wife must be substituted. That is, the woman’s first daughter should be returned to her home or clan for marriage. Additionally, if a woman’s husband is killed in battle, she shall be inherited by either the husband’s brother, clan leader, or the enemy who killed her late husband.
Dadi holds the position of the ‘manager’ of an extended family. She is the grandmother as well as a mother-in-law in the extended family in the Haryana region of Northern India (Heider 90). From the above explanation, it is evident that dadi is the head of the family, a factor that is dissimilar in other cultures where the husband is the head. Marriage in this type of setting is seen as a process of the men bringing in more resources in terms of wives, who pay the bride price for a hand in marriage as well as the primary workforce in the family. In order to understand this factor better, it should be noted that Dadi’s family exists in a patriarchy society where men are valued more than women. The reason for this is that the larger the family, the more powerful or esteemed a factor that is supported when a family has more men than women. A family with more women is considered weak as it spends more money on marriages and has fewer family members as the women stay in the husband’s family. In such a society, marriage is a process of bringing together resources and not based on the relationship between the man and woman.
Marriages have existed since the dawn of civilization as the union between spouse that is legally, socially as well as ethically accepted manner. The retained perception is that marriage is driven by the allure of one having a family. However, the current debate on LGBT marriage overlooks the perception, which has led to the study of marriage as presented by different cultures in specific the Sambia people as well as Dadi’s family. From the above examples of the Sambia people and Dadi’s family, it is evident that marriage is more encompassing when it comes to how varied cultures preserve it. According to the Sambia people, marriage is a sign of masculinity and childbearing privileges; however, the former takes precedence. On the other hand, in Dadi’s family marriage is a means of bringing together resources for the family as well as bearing children; however, the former takes precedence. It can be argued from the two cases mentioned in the above examples, that marriages are not primarily for the purpose of having a family but driven by other needs.
Coles, Roberta L. Race & Family: A Structural Approach. Sage Publications, 2006. Print.
Heider, Karl G. Ethnographic Film. Univ. of Texas Press, 2006. Print.
Herdt, Gilbert H. The Sambia: Ritual and Gender in New Guinea. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1987. Print.
Stockard, Janice E. Marriage in Culture: Practice and Meaning Across Diverse Societies. Wadsworth, 2002. Print.
Strong, Bryan, Christine DeVault, and Theodore F. Cohen. The Marriage and Family Experience: Intimate Relationships in a Changing Society. Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.