#2. Australian Tribes Marry at Birth
Again, let's get one thing out of the way: This article isn't about having sex with babies. We have no desire to talk about that today, and really, we're a little shocked that you even brought the idea up.
Marriages can exist without sex. From what we hear, most do.
Nonetheless, the men of Australia's Tiwi islands are indeed attracted to younger women, making the Tiwi men similar to most men anywhere in the world. But younger women tend to prefer younger men, which isn't very convenient for Tiwi male elders. So, the Tiwi developed a system that gives the older men an advantage, in which Tiwi women must be married during their entire lives, and we mean literally from birth. Not just committed to be married, but actually married. So right after a girl is born, her family arranges a marriage to a male adult and she's considered married to him immediately.
The baby doesn't have a whole lot of input on whom she marries, so her father chooses a husband to suit himself. A son-in-law can be a powerful ally, and potentially a rich one. And the son-in-law might be nice enough to return the favor. When he has a daughter (by an unrelated wife -- each man may have multiple wives), he might well marry his daughter to his father-in-law.
All right, we're certain this time: someone's his own grandpa.
The baby girl lives with her parents until she's of age. After that, she's ready to move in with her husband, who may be 20 or 30 years her senior. She'll almost certainly outlive him. She's then a widow, and as we've established, Tiwi women have to be married throughout their lives. So whom does she remarry? Another elder, maybe this time one the same age as her?
Probably not. Because there are a whole lot of much younger men in the village whose wives are still babies or who have no wives at all. And these men are ripe for the picking -- now, it's the woman's turn to negotiate a marriage to a much-younger, virile spouse.
#1. The Mosuo in China Have No Concept of Marriage at All
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All of this brings us to the Mosuo of southern China. None of the Mosuo have any kind of marriage. The very idea horrifies them.
Instead, they have concept of tisese, which other people in China translate as "walking marriage," but which literally translates as "goes back and forth." If a woman wants a child, or just wants some entertainment, she invites a man to practice tisese with her. He comes by, and they have sex. But she kicks him out in the morning, and there's never any talk of their living together.
Well, he talks about it. She laughs and shuts the door on him.
A tisese can be totally secret, with no public acknowledgement of the relationship at all. Couples handle these liaisons the way we did in college: When a man comes over, the woman hangs his hat on a hook outside her door, and though people may not know the gentleman caller's identity, they all know not to disturb the pair. The tisese may also be more public, with the sort of gift-giving you associate with a wedding. But either way, the man never moves in with the woman. There's no commitment. And when the woman gives birth, the man isn't a parent, isn't part of her household and plays no part in the child's upbringing.
The man stays at his own home and helps raise his sister's children instead. In each family, the woman acts as the head, and children have no fathers but each has various uncles. According to one strain of logic, this lets each man raise a child that he knows is his relative. When you marry a woman, you can never be quite sure if the children she bears have any of your genes. But when you raise your sister's children, you know those kids have some of your family's blood in them.
Plus, it's way more fun to be a drunk uncle than a responsible father.
The Mosuo have had plenty of visitors from elsewhere, so they've all heard of marriage. But it sounds like a ridiculous concept to them. Why be stuck with one person for your entire life? Why should you commit to someone when you might just fall out of love later? Why should your love for your kids or the love of money bind you to someone you may grow to hate?
Marriage is so universally scorned in the community that parents have devised a special threat for naughty children: "If you aren't good ... then we will marry you off!"
Related Reading: Speaking of insane marriages, how about when a fan weds their idol? It ended pretty violently for Priscilla Presley. But hey, Rick Saloman is doing pretty well. He's the poker player who somehow magicked his way into dating two hollywood starlets. And before you get rid of your matrimonial bent, read some pro-gay marriage arguments from Brendan McGinley.