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Marriage in Tribal Societies (Cultural Dynamics and Social Realiteis)

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Item Code: NAU280
Author: Tamo Mibang and M.C. Behera
Publisher: Bookwell, Delhi
Language: ENGLISH
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788189640354
Pages: 337
Other Details 9.50 X 6.50 inch
Weight 710 gm
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Book Description

The volume at hand includes selected papers presented/submitted in the National Seminar on Marriage in the Societies of Arunachal Pradesh, which was held on 22 and 23 March, 2005, in Rajiv Gandhi University (Formerly Arunachal University) Campus. The seminar was second in the series. Another seminar, almost under a similar title, Marriage Systems in Tribal Societies of Arunachal Pradesh was held on 19 September 2004. The two seminars almost under the same title, and organized within a period of six months are likely to raise some questions about the need of the second one. The point of contention obviously arises on the possibility of duplicity/repetition of themes and issues. Hence, a little clarification.

Arunachal Pradesh is a multi-ethnic state. It accommodates 25 tribes and about 60 minor tribes and sub-tribes. Even among the sub-tribes and their sub-groups, say among the Tangsa, there are apparent variations in many aspects of cultural practices. There are some well-researched tribes such as Adi, Apatani, Khampti, etc. Because of less population and interior habitation of some tribes and sub-tribes, outside scholars have not studied different aspects of their social life. There are not scholars from among these groups to write on their respective cultural practices. In groups where there are educated people they have distanced themselves from their cultural ethos in different degrees either due to conversion to alien religions or due to too much involvement in development process. In a way they have become outsiders to their traditions and customs like diku in Santal community. To the Santal an outsider (diku) is not the only one who does not belong to the community; even a Santal who does not live in and upto the ethos of the Santal culture is an outsider, a diku . What is evident from this simple analysis bears significance in presenting a greater truth that development in the state has not been a development through culture. Understanding of the situation of no papers from some tribes and many from some others has another implication. It tells about the access of people of the tribe and the sub-tribe to higher education. Though implicit, it speaks of unequal participation of the tribes in the process of development in no uncertain terms. Though Arunachal Pradesh is the abode of different tribes and sub-tribes at one level of understanding, they could be classified under four culture groups. The Khamptis and Singphos of Hinayana cult and the Memba, Khamba, Zakhrings of Mahayana cult come under the Buddhist cultural group. The Nocte, the Wancho and the Tangsa who were earlier head hunters can be put in a distinct cultural group. The Tani group of tribes namely Adi, Apatani, Nyishi, Tagin, Hillmiri,Galo etc. come under the banner of Tani culture. The Mishmis,Akas and Sulungs may also be put under Tani group of culture because of their common belief in a supreme god and animistic faiths. The fourth group like Nah, Miji, Sherdukpen etc. display a syncretism of animism and Buddhism. The endeavour of the seminar was to cover all the distinct tribes and sub-tribes in order to provide a base for further comparative study, which was not possible in the first seminar.

This is not to say that the tribes concerned in the first seminar were absent in the second seminar. In fact, from among well-researched tribes, papers were presented in the second seminar. While a single paper on a particular tribe covered the general aspects like types of marriage, marriage rules, etc. more papers on a particular tribe were essentially theme specific. In other words, in the second seminar, the papers presented and included in this volume are either on a tribe or a theme, which was not covered in the first seminar. For example, the volume includes three papers on Galo marriage practices pertaining to three different themes, namely symbolic aspects of rituals, gift exchanges and role of the village community. The issues covered here not only provide an ethnographic account of marriage practices in various tribal communities of Arunachal Pradesh but also pertain to analytical and methodological significance in the study of a culture.

No phenomenon in any culture can be studied in isolation; it exists and functions as an integral part of the total worldview of the community. Papers included in this volume with reference to the phenomenon of marriage confirm to the above statement. Moreover, most of the paper writers have written on their respective communities. These writers are educated and trained in various solid science disciplines which do not promote the understanding which they other wise would have developed by living in their system alone. No doubt, therefore, the papers could be viewed in relation to the issue of emic-etic debate, which is in currency among the students of cultural studies.

Many papers have focused on a specific issue in marriage practices of different tribes, though sometimes form a different perspective. Notwithstanding the difference in the perspective of analysis, the issues have the common grounding. Polygyny, for example, has been discussed either from a perspective of exploitation of women in a patriarchal society or from a measure of protection to widow at one level of understanding or from a measure of economic status of the family, but what is significant is the commonality of the practice of polygyny in many tribal communities. While commonalities corroborate to the concept of `psychic unity' of mankind as propounded by E. B. Tylor, the differences add new dimensions of understanding to the studies on marriage. No doubt, the perspectives of analysis have been different. Moreover, the concepts like 'bride price', `widow inheritance', etc have been contested consequent upon differences in practices prevalent in different communities. Arguably, the papers focus attention on the distinct analytical issues on the basis of empirical findings in the study of social institutions. The editors present the volume before the scholars from the above analytical point of view and hope that the volume will trigger off further interest in the study of marriage practices in tribal communities in a new perspective.


Marriage is an important social institution and is culture-universe in nature. But the nitty-gritty of marriage rules, motivations behind marriage and other aspects relating to marriage vary from one society to the other and from one period to the other. While the popular concept of marriage is that it is a union between a man and a woman, anthropologists like Lowie, Murdock and Westermark emphasise on social sanction in the union and how different rituals and ceremonies accomplish it. Sociologists like Blood, Lantz and Snyder, Bowman Bahr. Burgess, etc. view it as a system of roles and as involving primary relationships. No doubt, marriage has been defined by different scholars in course of their work among different communities of the world. But, no suitable definition to the word "marriage" has come forth so far to accommodate all types of marriage practices including the curious practices of woman to woman marriage and ghost marriage among the Fleur as described by Evans Pritchard. However a broader definition is available that includes typological and functional aspects of marriage. Broadly, marriage may be defined as a culturally approved relationship of one man and one woman (monogamy), or of two or more women (polygyny). of one woman and two or more men (polyandry) in which there is cultural endowment of sexual intercourse between the marital partners of opposite sex and generally, the expectation that the children to be born of the relationship will have rights over socially recognised father. Marriage in tribal societies in many cases does not confirm sexual relation only after marriage. Pre-marital sex, for example, is not a taboo in many tribal communities as can be seen in the writings of Elwin (also in some papers in this volume). An unwed mother, for example in Monpa community does not suffer from any social stigma and can marry a person other than the one who impregnated her. In this context the issue of legitimacy comes. In fact on this count marriage may be legitimate or consensual union of Caribbean type. In asserting what he called the 'principle of legitimacy', Malinowski stated that in all societies a socially recognised father has been regarded as indispensable to the child. A legal marriage then gives a woman a socially recognised husband and her children a socially recognised father. Notwithstanding the thematic diversities and analytical variations in the studies on marriage, a common understanding apparently emerges relating to the phenomenon on the issue of who can marry whom. The question is on preferences of mate selection. There are mainly two principles; first the principle of incest avoidance and second the principle of ethnocentrism. Ethno centrism prevents the ego from marrying some one too different from him with respect to a number of social characteristics like religions — ethnic identification, socio-economic status, and many others. Ethno-centricism defines the sphere of endogamous marriage. However, consideration of economic status Within an endogamous group focuses on some sort of social stratification even in undifferentiated tribal societies.

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