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Duel Nath




uer is the second largest Nilotic tribe inhabiting in Upper Nile of South Sudan, are divided into sub-three regional groups namely Western, Central and Eastern Upper Nile, which represent Lìc, Lol and Kumkan in Nuer.

Nuer (Nuääri) are one of the very few African groups that successfully tribe in east Africa

The Name of Nuer “Nuäär”:

The Nuer meaning is a like curse or taboo because is a social or religious custom placing prohibition or restriction of a particular thing. When thing goes wrong inside clan, Nuer before they called themselves as a Naath. Therefore, Nuer sat downs for that purpose. The name came as Nuäär indicate that if they do again people will die. Things ban.


Nuäär “Nuer” Orientation:

The Nuer speak of themselves as “Næy tin Naath” or human being Nuerland is located in the Southern Sudan in east Africa between 7th and 10th North and 29th and 34th east the main channel of the Nile River divides their country into western and eastern regions. Most of Nuerland consists of open savanna and is subject to considerable flooding during the two rainy season “April to July through October”.

At Nuer Calendar the year has twelve months, in the list of months given below.

Demographic and Geographic Distribution:

Nuer tribes are split into subdivision and clans. Are following



Nuäär (Nuer) Location:

The Nuer (Nuäär) lives mostly in Southern Sudan in Africa, in the Upper Nile State around the junction of the Nile River with the nearby Bahr el Ghazal and Sobat River, and extending up the Sobat across the Ethiopia border, the center of the Nuer (Nuäär) area is around Lake No.

Nuer (Nuääri) History and Cultural Relations:

Mythology and History:

Nuer (Nuääri) living to the east of the Nile speak of our western relatives as “Homeland Nuääri” and have a consistent oral tradition indicating that our expansion across the Nile, as far as the Ethiopia border, has a 200-300 years legacy, in process of this expansion, we forced the Anuak to migrate farther east into Ethiopia, and incorporated many Dinka (Möny Jäñ) into Nuäär communities. Nuer versed in such matters suggest that at one time three brothers Nuäär, Jäñ and Atuœt once lived in a neighboring territory, both Atuœt and Nuäär traditions indicate that this separations and initial migration originated in a cattle camp in what is now termed western “Nuäär Land” the Nuäär, Dinka and Atuœt have a common relationships. Naath rose as a separate from Dinka (Möny Jäñ) in Bul Nuäär area at the beginning of the 18th -19th century under circumstances are face both of them that continue, our mutual prejudices and relations with the Jäñ the myth, which has several variants runs that both Nuäär and Jäñ were sons of the same man and mother namely Kuœl Dæñ, who had promised that he would give the cow to elder son Jäñ and calf to Nuäär. Jäñ deceived our father and took the calf instead of the cow therefore provoking Nuäär’s perpetual contempt and disregard for the Jäñ unto day. An especially active period of Nuäär eastward migration began in the middle of the 18th-19th century beginning at the turn of the 20th century. British policy in Nuäärland was aimed at fixing boundaries between the Nuäär and the Jäñ, thus effectively halting a dynamic process of cultural change that had been unfolding for centuries.

Nuäär (Nuer) Identity:

A Nuäär person like many of his pastoral, a Nuer man’s working harder to keep the possession is his cattle. And then the life of Nuer people depends on cattle. Nuer is built around the herds and prestige is measured by the quantity and quality if the cattle a man owns.

Men and women take the names of their favorite oxen or cows and prefer to be greeted by their cattle names. A Nuer, a tall and very brown people and smart, and Nuer culture is very similar to Dinka and Atuœt. We call ourselves Naath, meaning “Human Being” the Nuer, Dinka and Atuœt are sometimes considered one ethnic group.

Nuäär (Nuer) Settlements:

Traditional Nuäär (Nuer) settlements take radically different form as a consequence of ecological changes throughout the year.  In rainy season, flood force Nuer to seek narrow strips of land above the flood lines. During this period, Nuäär women are engaged in the cultivation of millet and maize, the staple horticultural resources, and men pasture their large herds nearby. We are successes people for growing maize and millet in Africa at large. With the coming of the dry season, Nuäär men move their herds away from the elevated ridges, following, with our herds, the course of lowering riverbeds channels. Hence, at the height of the dry season, the Nuäär population is most dispersed or goes in different directions, at this time, agnatic ally conscripted groups live in cattle camps. With the coming of the new season’s rains, herders commence a gradual process of transhumance back toward the elevated ridges, away from the rising rivers. Here, wet season settlements form once again, and horticulture or cultivation follows the circular mud walls with thatched roofs. Temporary scaffoldings are made to dry the millet and maize as it is harvested. In the dry season cattle camp, shelters are made from local grasses as the need for protection from the elements is less pressing.

Nuäär (Nuer) Economy:

Nuäär (Nuer) technology is simple in manufacture in local and sophisticated in suitability to the local environment. Like the Dinka (Jäñ) and Atuœt. Nuer carries out our economic life in a good manner that highlights cultural conceptions of gender and the division of labor by sex. Wet season homesteads, horticultural produce, and huts themselves have strongly feminine associations, whereas masculine images are associated with tending cattle of millet, maize, and introduced vegetables and groundnuts where soil conditions allow, cattle are centrally important domesticates, and Nuer also pasture large flocks of sheep and goats. Nuer men enjoy occasional success in taking game animals such as antelopes, hippopotamuses, and elephants. No crops are produced for commercial or market purposes.

Environment, Economy and Natural Resources:

Most of Naath (Nuäär) homeland is located in the swamp areas of Upper Nile. The influences of the environment on the lifestyle of the Naath are sedentary during dry season mostly Naath Nuäär families domicile or dwelling in solitary or private settlement. Are agro-pastoralists balancing subsistence agriculture with cattle herding. Naath keep large herds, fishing and hunting.

The mains crops are sorghum, Nuäär, maize, Dura etc, many people are working in gardens at several time are waiting coming rainy season. Jikäny, Lœu, Gaawäär, and Ji-Kuec chieñ, however, is demonstrated or display yearly transhumance the arid or dry season was spins the rested going with cattle in summer camps. The other natural resources potential include wildlife, fisheries, acacia Senegalese, gum, etc. Nuäär had a four season are, September, October, November are Jiœm, December, January, February are Mäy, March, April,  May are Ruel, June, July, and August are Tœt.


Nuäär (Nuer) language:

Is a Nilo-Saharan language of the western Nilotic group?  It is spoken by the Nuer (Nuäär) people of Southern Sudan and western Ethiopia. Nuer is one of eastern and central Africa’s most widely spoken languages. The Nuer tribes are one of second largest tribes in Southern Sudan, and are very successfully people in east Africa. Thok Naath, Nuer language is spoken all over the ræy rool Nath. They are originating from Upper Nile east and west Upper Nile and central, they have three state, Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states in Southern Sudan. The first description of the Nuer (Thok Nath) language was published in 1912 at Doleib Hill by Diedrich Wastermann. Therefore, Ray Huffman arrived to start her work at Nasir station in about 1924-1925 and Vandevort a generation later. Although the Rejef language Conference in 1928 had established a baseline for missionary cooperation in linguistic description and literacy development, the first book written was Nuer English Dictionary and later Nuer customs and Folklore in 1931. However, the Thok Nath is very close to the Jäñ and Chollo languages. The Nuer (Nuäär) language has a Latin-based alphabet. The mass majority of the outsider whom inhabit ate in Nuäärland, Nuer manage to educate the newcomers the dialect. The Nuer language is a Nilotic language closely related to the speech of the Dinka and Atuœt. The language is uniform with no definable dialects.

Nuer (Nuäär) Customs:

The Nuer culture is organized around cattle. But since the Nuer (Naath) people live in the Upper Nile valley, Nile perch is also an essential part of our economy. Grains and vegetables are available for all season. But cattle are not primarily for food, but our people do drink milk. Meat is eaten at important celebrations like wedding party, or when an animal is sacrificed.

We live pattern changes according to the seasons of the year. As the rivers flood, the people have to move farther back onto higher ground, where the old men and women cultivate millet and maize while the young men herd the cattle nearby. In the dry season, the younger men take the cattle herds closer to the receding or farther away Rivers. Cooperative extended family groups live around communal or share cattle camps.

We build only temporary houses or shelters. Houses in wet-season settlements have circular mud walls over stick frames with thatched roofs. As grain is harvested, it is dried on temporary scaffolds. In dry-season camps, men sleep with the cattle in shelters or byre made from local grasses and wood. Women may remain in or near the wet season areas when the men follow the receding waters toward the lower areas.

Parallel to territorial divisions are clan lineages descended through the male line from a single ancestor. These lineages are significant in the control and distribution of resources, and tend to coalesce or unite with the territorial sections.

The importance of cattle in Nuer life and though further exemplified in personal names. Men are frequently addressed by names that refer to the form and color of their favorite oxen, and women take names from oxen and from the cows they milk. Even small boys call one another by ox-names when playing together in the pastures, a child usually taking his name from the bull-calf of the cow him and his mother milk. Often a man receives an ox-name at birth.

Nuäär (Nuer) Marriage and Family:

Marriage in Nuer (Næy tin Naath) all legal marital unions are recognized through the exchange of bride-wealth, in the form of cattle, between the husband’s kin and the rightful claimants of these goods among the family of the bride. A standard ideal of forty (50-or 80) head of cattle comprises or made up, the expected number of cattle to be received by the bride’s family. In Nuer eyes, however, a marriage has not been finalized until the bride has given birth to at least two children. The actual exchange of bride-wealth cattle is so a lengthy process and can be stalled or broken off by a number of phenomena or things appearing to view. Once a third child has been born of the union, Nuäär consider the marriage to be tied. The women has become a full member of her husband’s agnatic lineage, along with her children, through marriage, the continuity of the husband’s lineage has been assured, and following the birth of two or three children, the wife’s role in expending relationships of kinship has been realized. Whatever else the bride’s family and kin get, they must get certain animals or the marriage cannot take place. Hence these basic claims take precedence and their titles are always the first to be acknowledged. The conventional order is as follows:

I.        The cows of the paternal grandparents. “wañneèn Guàn”

II.        The cows of the maternal grandparents. “wañneèn Man”

III.        The cows of the father with its calf, and his ox. “Yañ guàn kænæ dœwdæ kæ thäkdæ”

IV.        The cows of the mother with its calf. “Yañ man kænæ dœwdæ”

V.        The cows of the paternal uncle with its calf, and his ox. “ Yañ guànlèènä kænæ dœwdæ kæ thäkdæ”

VI.        The cows of the maternal uncle with its calf, and his ox. “Yañ manlèènä kænæ dœwdæ kæ thäkdæ”

VII.        The calf (heifer) of the paternal aunt. “dœw (nac) waacä”

VIII.        The cow (heifer) of the maternal aunt. “yañ (nac) manlenä”

IX.        The cow of the father’s spirit. “yañ Kuœth guààr”

X.        The cow of the mother’s spirit. “yañ Kuœth maar”

XI.        The ox of the uterine brother. “ thäk dämaar”

XII.        The ox of the paternal half-brother. “thäk gat guààr”

Nuäär (Nuer) Culture:

Nuer culture cattle have historically been of the highest symbolic, religious and economic value among the Nuäär. Cattle are particularly important in their role as bride-wealth, where they are given by a husband’s lineage to his wife’s lineage. It is this exchange of cattle which ensures that the children will be considered to belong to the husband’s lineage and to his line of descent. The classical Nuäär foundation of ghost marriage, in which a man can father children after his death, is based on this ability of cattle exchanges to define relations of kinship and decent. In their turn, cattle given over to the wife’s patrilineal enable the male children of that patrilineal to marry, and thereby ensure the continuity of her patrilineage. Barren women can even take wives of their own, whose children obviously biologically fathered by men from outside unions, and then become members of her patrilineage and she is legally and culturally their father, allowing her to participate in reproduction in a symbolic sense.

Nuer people are very well organized in term of cultural system. The lineage is so in its corporate character a composite structure of cognate branches and attachments in which the Nuer value of agnation is the integrating principle. The group of persons living together and thereby the lineage structure which contains them.

Typical foods eaten by the Nuer tribe include beef, goat, and cow’s milk sorghum in one of three forms “Kop” finally ground handled until balled and boiled, it called “wal wal” ground, lightly balled and boiled to and solid porridge, also there is one called “Kuän Nath” which mean Nuäär food.

Nuäär “Nuer” Arts, Music, Literature and Handicrafts:

Nuäär arts, music and literature like in most unwritten culture are orally transmitted over generations in songs, stories and folktales. The Nuäär are very rich at songs, and folktales. Nuäär article of arts, and music include, lyre thöm, and bul kiæ “thor” which are similar to other Nilotice. And the rest of African people, Nuäär articles for self-defiance there is different types of, like stick “kææt” and spear “mut, bith”  long side-blown trumpet carved from a single piece of Oryx horn that has been straightened and largely hollowed out. A man carries tobacco container or tobacco pouch it called “Gok” a Nuer woman carrying a long basket on her head it called “Dièny” and also other a tail basketry granary placed in front of a hut and byre it called “Šoth”  another is  called Nuer tobacco pipe bowl “Tony” this is a most important handcraft the Nuääri have developed.  Nuer artistic initiative had now become really in Southern Sudanese national cultural heritage.

Nuäär (Nuer) Kinship:

Nuäär domestic groups are based on the perfect patrilineage descent. Kith or one’s relationship should in some way be recognized as agnatic relatives. This principle is often confounding or confuse by the actual composition of local groups, but the ideal design persists across time.  Nuäär imagine that all adult males can claim ancestry to all other adult males, although in actually neither domestic settlement pattern nor territorial segments conform to the ideal. The recognition of natural ties in the Nuer system of kinship values as social ties.

Society, Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions:

The Naath is a segmented society. The nuclear clans (Dièl) are the true owners of the land, in the present context village sites, pastures grounds, its fishing and drinking pools or seasonal streams. The Dièl or nuclear attracted others ethnic communities people could emerge into the Naath lineage and settled them as assimilation or marriage into Nuer society.

Nuäär Spirituality, Beliefs (Doctrines):

Nuer (Nuäär) believes that God is the spirit of the sky or the spirit who is in the sky” Kuoth Nhial” (God in Heaven) the creator, but Nuers believe in the coming of God through rain, lightning and thunder, and that the rainbow is the necklace of God. The sun and the moon as well as other material entities are also manifestation or sign of God, who after all is a spirit.

The spirits of the air above are believed to be the most powerful of the lesser spirits, while there are also spirits associated with clan-spears names such as WiW, a spirit of war, associated with thunder. Nuers believe that when a man or a woman dies, the flesh, the life and the soul separate. The flash is committed to the earth, while the breath or life goes back to God (Kuoth). The soul that signifies the human individuality and personality remains alive as a shadow or a reflection, and departs together with the ox sacrificed, to the place of the ghosts.

Nuäär (Nuer) Religion:

Cattle play an important part in Nuer religion and ritual. Cows are dedicated to the ghosts of the owner’s lineages and personal spirits that may have possessed them at any time. The Nuer (Nuäär) believe they establish contact with these ancestor ghosts and spirits by rubbing ashes along the backs of oxen or cows dedicated to them, through the sacrifice of cattle. No important Nuääri ceremony of any kind is complete without such a sacrifice.

Nuääri have a traditional religious worldviews usually called. “Animistic” or living plants, but they worship a supreme being called Kuoth who has various manifestation or sign with which some claim to have personal relationships. Nuääri or (Nuer) prays for health and well-being, offering sacrifices to Kuoth so he will answer their petitions. There is no organized religious hierarchy or chief priest or system accept Nuer people worldwide. But many individuals serve as diviners and healers. “Tièt

Nuers do not believe in a place of after life for the spirit, and their religious concepts deal with concerns of this life. They do believe the spirits of the dead can affect their current life. The more recently deceased, the more influence they have. Nuer honor and appease or calm down the spirits of their ancestors. Cattle are sacrificed to God and the spirits. Nuers believe that all life comes from Kuoth “God” and returns to the same divinity at death.

Nuer spirit shrine, a shrine with in a homestead set up to appease a spirit, almost certainly shrine with a wild date branch planted next to a shrine a bunch of grass and a new “Buœr” ritual fires screen near to the hut. The horn of a goat sacrificed by the prophet is also just hanging from a branch.

Nuäär “Nuer” Neighbours’, Foreign Relations and Co-operation, and socio-political organization:

uers are very strong and powerfully neighbours, the Naath ca maintain peace and harmony with their neighbours. The Naath have cordial or warm and friendly relations with Tÿÿt, Chollo, Jäñ, Dinka, Bär, Anyuak, etc from whom they have inter-married with Nuääri, or “rol Nath” Nuerland. Naath cherish independence and freedom. Nuer is a product of hard and free deeply democratic.  Naath wealth makes no difference. A man with many cattle is envied, but not treated differently from a man with few cattle. Birth from Nuer makes no difference. A man may not be a member of the dominant clan of his tribe, he may even be of Dinka descent, but were another to different tribe he would run the home chiefs. The political structure of the Nuer “Nuääri” can only understand in relation to their neighbours, with whom they form a single political method contiguous or nearby Dinka, Chollo and Nuer tribes are segments within a commence structure as much as are segments of the same Nuer tribe. Nuer “Nuääri” social relationship is one of very friendly manner at all tribe in Sudan.

Nuer political segment and Dinka political section changes into a relationship in which the Nuer subdivision becomes entirely dominant or leading mixture and not a class structure result.

As far as history and tradition go back. Dinka and Nuer were conceived by them to be a normal state of affairs and a duty, for they have a myth or fairly story, like that of Esau and Jacob, which explains it and justifies it. Nuer is a younger son than Dinka both of them are represented in this myth as two sons of one father who promised his old cow to Dinka and its young calf to Nuer. Dinka came by night to father’s byre and, imitating or copy the voice of Nuer, obtained or secure the calf. When father found that he had been tricked or deceived he was angry and charged Nuer to avenge.

Nuäär language institute, in Australia is a non political association or organization founded in Victoria, in 2009. (Nli) is an organization of Nuäär literacy workforce, linguists, language development workforce and Nuäär language.

The Association purpose and it Mission.

The Nuäär language institute will assist the Nuäär community in Australia to maintain and develop their language and cultural among Nuäär.

The institute will promote the benefit of literacy within the Nuäär community, and develop inventiveness to enable adults’ education and children to preserve their mother tongue on trucks in written and reading.

The institute or organization will encourage Nuäär people a greater understanding of Nuäär cultural for society and development within wider Australia Nuäär communities. And develop the Nuäär activities in Victoria.

Aim and objectives of the association:

The primary concern of NLI is Thok Nath, the Nuäär language. The objectives of the association are following:

I.        Preservation and development of the Nuäär language literacy and cultural.

II.        Promotion of the importance of first language literacy amongst the Nuäär living in Australia.

III.        Development of programs to concentrate on Nuäär literacy.

IV.        Facilitation of the development of Nuäär, and access to settlement concerns and information in the Nuäär language, including information on social security, the legal system, domestic violence, child abuse, child support, employment, education and health etc.

V.        Development of language and curriculum resources to support the teaching of the Thok Nath language.

VI.        Development of training programs to improve Nuäär language skills of Nuäär teachers.

VII.        Collection, safeguarding and digitization of Nuäär cultural materials, research and oral heritage.

VIII.        Development and provision of Nuäär cultural awareness training programs for key service providers.

IX.        Understand the relation between organization or association culture and the language it means Thok Nath. How does culture contribute to organizational innovation and success?

X.        Appreciate the contribution of organizational culture to the management of change,

XI.        Understand the analytic elements of organization culture and literacy, such as stories, myths, heroes and folklores.

XII.        Revitalize and preserve the Nuäär language by encouraging  Nuäär youth to be proud of their unique language and culture

XIII.        Combat inter-community conflicts regarding two competing Nuäär language dialects,

XIV.        Promote multilingual (Nuäär) functional literacy skills among the Nuäär in order to empower them to function effectively in a multilingual context, and

XV.        Empower the Nuäär (particularly mother and youth) to spearhead development and problem-solving in their communities, in part through the provision of basic social services, without imperiling their cultural identity.

Aims of our writing policy:

  1. Promote a learning partnership between Nuäär language and Nuäär literacy.
  2. Write with confidence and fluency, the Nuäär language organizing the content and style of what is written to suit the purpose and readership.
  3. Use spelling, punctuation and syntax appropriately and with confidence.
  4. Have an interest in words in Nuäär language and their meaning.
  5. Understand a range of text types and genres.
  6. Develop a legible, cursive handwriting style and to be able to use Nuäär word processing skills.

General aims:

  1. To raise awareness, stimulate and encourage research in the field of materials developments for Nuäär language.
  2. To foster an intercultural dialogue and exchange of experience and developments between Nuäär and Dinka, Chilluk and others tribe in Southern Sudan and minority language literacy in South Sudan societies.
  3. To examine the educational and cultural aspects of the managements of mother-tongue literacy in South Sudan in Africa.

Specific objectives and aims:

I.        To establish and /or strengthen a network of language education scholars and practitioners in Africa and Australia in the area of design and production of materials for mother-tongue based multilingual education in primary schools.

II.        To develop in the framework of the language material as a mother-tongue and multilingual literacy materials website linked to other relevant sites in Australia, Africa and elsewhere.

III.        To facilitate the development of the cultural awareness within Nuäär community.

IV.        To raise awareness and increase confidence and self-esteem amongst the members of the community.

V.        To develop a network infrastructure, this will support all disadvantaged communities.

The current association projects:

The Nuäär language institute has initialed a number of projects in order to work towards achieving the institute’s objectives.

These projects comprise.

  1.  A Nuäär literacy course
  2. The development of a Nuäär literacy textbook, Church hymn book that would allow the Nuäär to learn, read and write Nuer language.
  3. The digitization of Nuäär poetry, folktales, proverbs, songs and oral histories. Material collected and preserved will be made available through a Nuäär language.
  4. Development of Nuäär English Dictionary and Nuäär Dictionary, Nuäär website.
  5. Development of a concise Nuäär grammar and.
  6.  English Nuäär translation services.


Briefs History:

The Nuäär language institute is an educational association on that was founded in Nairobi, in 1995, by Gatwec Kulaañ. The association was lay down the foundations to categorize and develop the Nuäär language to conserve Nuäär verbal communication and culture. The institute had its roots in the Nuäär cultural Society formed in back home.

The members of the Nuäär community first arrived in Australia in late 1984-85, are few people, but the language was not established, they tried to open Nuäär School as well as the first Nuäär primary school in Melbourne as a mother tongues in Australia, in 2003, therefore, Kulang tried to open Nuäär website but have no ability to continuing to created language web to preserve culture and development.

The objectives of the Nuäär language institute in Australia, is wider than its predecessor. The primary objective is the preservation and maintenance of Nuäär language and culture, although the Australian institute will make use of the internet through Nuäär language to make communications technologies to preserve Nuäär language and culture and encourage linguistic, anthropological and sociological research, and grow up our activities and development through network. Luka riek

Marriage Rules: Part II

Monogamy, polygyny, and polyandry all have inherent though different types of problems for family members.  Not surprisingly, husband and wife disagreements are common with monogamy.   Parent-child rivalry for the attention of the other parent is typical also. 

With polygyny, jealousy between co-wives over perceived unequal attention from their shared husband is common.  However, this is often avoided, or at least reduced, by giving each wife a separate house and a ranked status.  The first wife is usually in a commanding position.  Rivalry is also reduced by sororal polygyny click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced, which is sisters marrying the same man.  The assumption is that sisters will be more likely to amicably share a husband.  The most disruptive rivalry in a polygynous family is often between the children, especially if there is something important to inherit, such as a royal title or wealth.  This also results in rivalry between the mothers.  The typical way of avoiding this situation is to formally define the eldest son or daughter of the senior wife as the heir apparent.

With traditional polyandry, the most common source of friction is rivalry between the fathers and their children for the attention of their wife/mother.  This causes tension for the already heavily burdened wife.

Unusual Marriage Arrangements

map of the Nuer territory in Southern Sudan

Some societies are flexible in allowing unconventional marriage arrangements.  The cattle herding Nuer click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced tribe of southern Sudan are an example.   A woman who is unable to have children is sometimes married as a “husband” to another woman who then is impregnated by a secret boyfriend.  The barren woman becomes the socially recognized father and thereby adds members to her father’s patrilineal kin group.

The Nuer also have several forms of “ghost marriage.”  A man may marry a woman as a stand-in for his deceased brother.  The children that are born of this union will be considered descendants of the dead man–the “ghost” is the socially recognized father.  This allows the continuation of his family line and succession to an important social position.  A Nuer woman of wealth may marry a deceased man to keep her wealth and power.  Married Nuer women traditionally have no significant wealth–it belongs to their husbands.  With this form of “ghost marriage”, there will be no living husband, though she may subsequently have children.  She is, in effect, a widow who takes care of her husband’s wealth and children until they are mature.

Second Marriage Preferences

Many societies have specific kinds of second marriage rules that anthropologists refer to as the levirate click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced and the sororate click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced.   The levirate specifies that a widow should marry the brother of her deceased husband (as shown in the diagram below).  The rationale for this rule is that it keeps the dead man’s children and wealth within his family.  It also maintains the existing bond between the two families.  The levirate was named after Levi the son of Jacob in the Judeo-Christian Old Testament.  It is a marriage rule that was common in Jewish society several thousand years ago and in other patrilineal societies that have polygyny.

levirate diagram

A mirror image of the levirate is the sororate.  It is a rule that a widower should marry the sister of his deceased wife (as shown in the diagram below).  Both families usually encourage this remarriage because it continues the bond between them.  Where polygyny exists, there may be a degree of sexual permissiveness between a husband and his wife’s younger sister in anticipation of a presumed future marriage between them. This anticipatory sororate click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced generally is found in societies in which sororal polygyny is popular.  The older sister is likely to encourage this sexual relationship because she knows that her younger sister would be more likely to take care of her children if she dies than would a co-wife who is not related to her.

sororate diagram

The Price of Marriage

The marriage process often involves a predetermined agreement to transfer wealth or to perform labor for one’s in-laws.  In the mostly monogamous societies of Europe and Asia, this traditionally has been in the form of a dowry, which is money or property given by the bride’s family to the groom, ostensibly to establish a new household or estate.  It is, in a sense, her share of the family inheritance.   Dowries may be seriously negotiated, especially when the bride’s family is wealthy.   Until the early 20th century in Europe, rich families commonly hired lawyers do draw up formal marriage contracts that often specified the dowry details.  The North American traditions of the “hope chest” and the bride’s family paying for the wedding are survivals of a dowry system.

In India today, the failure to pay all of an agreed upon dowry amount is considered an extremely serious problem.  It places a newly married young woman in a difficult and dangerous position in the home that she shares with her husband’s family.  Hundreds of these brides die each year in what are euphemistically referred to as “kitchen accidents.”  In fact, some are killed by the husband, mother-in-law, or other members of his family who view the failure to pay the agreed upon dowry as being a breech of contract and the ruining of his life.  The death of his “failed” wife allows him to marry again and to obtain the dowry that his family believes he deserves.

Bride price (or wealth) is the reverse of a dowry.  It involves the groom giving things of high value to the bride’s father.   Bride price is most common among polygynous, small-scale, patrilineal societies–especially in sub-Saharan Africa and among Native Americans.  When European missionaries first encountered bride price, they misinterpreted it as being nothing more than a demeaning “bride purchase.”  It actually is a way of showing respect for the bride and her parents.  At the same time, it is a compensation for the bride’s family for the loss of her economic services.  Very importantly, it is also a way of validating the groom’s right to future offspring.  In some societies, children are not “legitimate” if their father did not pay a bride price.  It is more important than a marriage ceremony is establishing legitimacy.

Often the bride price is large enough to require kinsmen to help the groom in making the payment.  This is especially common among pastoralists societies, such as the cattle herders of East Africa who have traditionally paid bride price with cows.  Among tribes like the Nuer, Turkana, and Masai, borrowing to make up the agreed upon bride price puts the groom in debt to his older male relatives for many years.  The bride’s father usually disburses the payment in turn as bride price for his sons and nephews.  As a result, the community’s wealth is circulated.

map of the Nuer, Turkana, and Masai tribal territories in East Africa photo of a Masai woman holding her young child
Masai mother and child









Among these tribes, the bride’s family has a strong economic interest in keeping her marriage together because a divorce would require the return of the bride price, which often has already been given away to relatives.  If there are children, however, the bride price usually does not have to be returned, but they belong to the groom’s family.  He keeps the children instead of the bride price.  In a sense, the bride price becomes a payment for children and, therefore, has also been referred to as “progeny price” click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced.

In societies with little material wealth and social rules requiring sharing, it is rarely possible to accumulate a bride price.  As a result, such societies often have bride service instead.  The groom agrees to work for his in-laws for a set period of time.  Among the Yanomamö and other lowland forest peoples of South America, this service may go on for years.  Making it more difficult is the fact that Yanomamö men are customarily prevented from speaking directly to their in-laws and must avoid them.

In Melanesia click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced, the Amazon Basin of South America, and scattered elsewhere among warlike peoples, there have been cultural patterns allowing marriage by capture as an alternative method of acquiring a wife.  It has occurred usually when bride price could not be arranged or when women were in short supply.  It is a mistake to assume that marriage by capture is always a forceful act on an unwilling woman.  At times, it is merely a ritual or a cover for a prearranged elopement.

NOTE:  In contemporary Japan there is a system of traditional gift exchanges between the groom’s and the bride’s families that does not neatly fit the usual definition of a dowry or a bride price.  They have essentially combined both patterns in a largely symbolic gift exchange.  When a couple becomes engaged, the two sets of parents formally exchange betrothal gifts with each other, thereby reinforcing that the marriage will be a bond between the families rather than just the young couple.  In the Tokyo region, these “yuino” gifts usually consist of nine items that are considered to be auspicious (e.g., abalone, dried bonito, dried kelp, etc.).  During this ceremony, the groom also gives “yuinokin” (betrothal money) to his future bride’s family.  It is understood that this money is to be used in establishing a household for the newly wed couple.  During the late 1990’s this betrothal money averaged 878,000 yen (a little more than $7,300 U.S. dollars at the time).  It is popular for urban Japanese couples to design their own wedding rituals and to incorporate North American traditions (e.g., white wedding dresses, tiered wedding cakes, etc.).  It is also very popular to get married in Hawaii and other places outside of Japan.  For more information about contemporary Japanese marriage traditions see “Marriages of Convenience” and  “What is the Ideal Marriage.”



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