Edmund Leach

Marriage is not simply the union between two individuals but more the joining of tribes, clans and kin. There are strong connotations that marriage may bring about economic and political reasons behind it, even thought these might never be discussed or shown light upon. Marriage is a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are recognised legitimate offspring of both partners. It should not be regarded as a single phenomenon but as a ‘bundle of rights’. (Edmund Leach.

) In this essay I ma going to explain the economic importance of marriage regarding the Nuer from Southern Sudan and the Malays, visualizing marriage as a form of organizing society. All theories of how society arouse depend on the idea that humans once existed without society. It is much more likely that some form of society evolved together with humanity; given especially that our closest primate relatives are also socially organized. Marriage is such a way of organizing society, although marriage cannot be defined universally.

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(Kinship, An Introduction to the basic concepts. ) However in the great majority of societies it can be regarded as involving some cultural restriction on human sexual relations, restricting access for each individual to a limited number of other individuals. It is the exchange of women that draw groups together to form a society, as incest can be punished or badly frown upon in many communities. A marriage can be a recognized relationship between two individuals or an axis of an alliance between families.

There is a complex network of kinship found amongst the Nuer, where marriages must occur with people from outside one’s kin and therefore mainly with persons belonging to many different local communities. With each marriage these links running from one community to another are increased and there results a complex network of kinship ties between other clans and tribes of the same territory. (Marriage among the Nuer. ) This type of alliance can form strong political strength within a territory, which in turn might propagate economic issues.

If a territory is politically close-knit and there is trust, barter of goods and economic growth may begin more easily. However the most important economic importance of marriage is when it is accompanied by property transfers. These can be in the form of brideprice which is less satisfactory as the bride is being bought and sold as a commodity. In the other hand, bridewealth is a payment made for the bride by the groom’s family and wealth is re-circulated back and forth even in years to come and forms a bond between groups.

The Nuer undergo the payment of bridewealth together with three public marriage ceremonial rites. The rites cannot take place without the transfer of cattle same as the transfer of cattle cannot take place without the ceremonies. Each enforces and reinforces the other, to such extent that the bride’s people by holding the rites, increase pressure on the groom’s people. Conversely the groom’s people can, by withholding cattle induce the girl’s family and kin to advance ceremonies. This is an assuring way to make sure, up until the final moment, that the chosen bride or groom is the correct one.

Men who claim distant cognatic kinship with the bride may ask for gifts, it is these kin who are so distant that they do not receive a portion of the bridewealth. However they are entitled to gifts from the groom, and this shows the economic importance of marriage as a large number of the bride’s kin can benefit from the marriage. For the Malays, there is no clear distinction of marriage as in general it occurs at a late stage in life, after the bride or the groom have had various lovers and relationships. If the bride has illegitimate children, her new husband will be the person from whom they will inherit wealth and land.

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