The Process of Marriage

Paths to Marriage

It is a father’s responsibility to find a bride for his son and to hold the marriage rituals, and conversely, it is the son’s obligation to sponsor the mortuary rituals for his parents.[1] These duties are expressed in the proverb “sacrifice the head of cattle, marry off the son, sacrifice the head of cattle, celebrate the mortuary ritual” (go maripuo biba, bura mari burhebo). Nevertheless, the marriage processes differ from an “arranged marriage” in the plains, since the young women and men often themselves play an active role in the search for the future marriage partner, and parents have scant ability to impose their will against their children’s opposition. This active role of the young people in the choice of a marriage partner should not be taken to mean that marriage is an affair of two individuals, however. On the contrary, Gadaba marriage negotiations demonstrate that it is not the future couple who work out the conditions for the marriage alliance, but the representatives of their groups. The procedures in the event of compensation payments and at the handover of the bridewealth also make clear the collective nature of the relationships established or perpetuated through marriage.

Fathers keep an eye out for potential spouses for their daughters and sons, and the eligible houses are likely to be acquainted with one another, since affinal ties usually link villages over generations. It is generally preferred to give one’s daughter to a family whose “house and yard” (gor duar) are known, and conversely to take daughters from there.[2] As the examples of matrimonial practice have shown, each kutum has affinal ties with numerous groups and so has relatively wide room for maneuver in choosing marriage partners. Generally, daughters are not demanded; rather, the gift of a daughter is negotiated. Nevertheless, a Dombo said to me once, “If your mother’s brother demands your daughter (for his son), can you refuse that?” In the same way, the Gadaba would also not call the authority of the mother’s brother into question by a flat refusal. Since the inclinations of the young people are an accepted relevant fact, however, the daughter’s (fictitious) unwillingness can be invoked if necessary in order to evade such pressing inquiries. The gift of a daughter against her will may possibly lead to a quick dissolution of the relationship, entailing lengthy and expensive compensation payments. In general, marriages are not distinguished by a high degree of stability early on, and many women and men have several attempts behind them before a tie proves lasting. The wedding ritual (biba) is therefore often not held immediately after a bride has been brought to a village, but only some time later. Three paths to marriage are distinguished, although the empirical proceedings probably most often consist of a combination of the forms I will now briefly describe: making suit for a bride (rai- badi, oibo*), abduction of the bride (jikbar, “to pull”), and elopement by a young couple (udulia).

  • [1] The marriage rituals can be performed both in different orders and far apart in time. Inaddition, not all the rituals are obligatory, and not all of them are therefore performed by allhouses. I was consequently unable to document the marriage rituals with the same level ofdetail as the mortuary rituals. I observed the entrance of the bride into her new house multipletimes, and I was also able to directly document the subsequent reciprocal visits (pani chinchini,handi baurani) of the bride-takers and bride-givers. As far as the wedding (biba) rituals areconcerned, I was able to witness a “Christian” version that diverged from the usual rituals inmany ways, along with my own marriage, which - although the rituals of the entire process wereconducted - was necessarily also characterized by deviations from the norm (cf. epilogue).
  • [2] From both women’s and men’s perspectives, it was always stressed to me that a good spouseworks much and drinks little.
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