5 Insane Foreign Versions of Traditional Marriage
Whoa, wait. You want gays to marry? What next? Why not marry your own sister? Or your sister-in-law, or your mom? How about you go marry a baby? Or maybe we'll end up getting rid of weddings altogether! Having no marriage at all! Or hell, why not go marry ghosts!
No, gay marriage won't cause any of those things to happen. Specifically, because they've already been happening, because the "traditional" idea of marriage is kind of hazy if you take a look around the world:
Pacific Islanders Skip the Wedding, Go Straight to the Wedding Presents
All this arguing over who can marry whom might make you wonder why we need to have weddings at all. If you love someone, why don't you just go live with them and be done with it? Be a couple, no one's stopping you. What's so special about the wedding itself?
One day to let all the crazy out?
Two words: wedding gifts. Host a wedding, and you get to write up a gift registry. And soon, you and your fiance will be positively buried in platters and linens.
Which brings us to a set of islands near Australia -- the Trobriand islands off the coast of New Guinea. Most cultures have crazy elaborate, meticulously-planned wedding rituals, but the Trobriand clans have no real marriage ceremony at all. Couples meet and hook up -- there's never been any taboo against sex before marriage; islanders play erotic games while still children and start having sex as soon as they hit puberty. Couples move in with each other without any formal marriage and then, one day, the couple sits down on the guy's porch for all to see. And that's how the village knows that the relationship is serious.
Despite having three kids, Dave and Amy only got really serious when they sat on their front deck.
The woman's mother comes by and brings a gift -- of plump and tasty cooked yams. They eat these together. The following day, the guy's family arrives with gifts of clothes: skirts, long skirts for his girlfriend. Because if they're going to be a real couple now, it's time to get rid of the wild, wanton wardrobe she wore as a teen.
Then more people from the woman's family arrive, relatives of each of her parents. These folk bring uncooked yams, raw material for many meals to come. Then the man's family comes by with a Bed, Bath & Beyond's worth of cookware, knives, and curios. And then these relatives receive gifts from the bride's relatives -- more yams, uniting all the families in one glorious yam union.
Yams: like gold and jewels, except their value isn't totally made-up.
If the woman gets tired of the relationship, she just moves out, and, boom, she's single again. Her ex can try and win her back with more gifts (deluxe yams?), and if she accepts them, they're again married. But if she doesn't, they aren't.
These relaxed attitudes may come from how the Trobriand, following their traditional lore, didn't think men fathered children. Children were thought conceived when spirits entered the mother's head. The man's semen merely nourished the fetus. This Spunk of Sustenance theory may also be why Trobriand boys were encouraged to ingest lots of semen during adolescence ... but that's a subject for another article. Or, not.
Tibetans Sometimes Marry Their Own Stepmothers
OK, we were joking about marriage being all about the presents -- obviously one of the big reasons cultures make a fuss over marriage has to do with inheritance rights. For instance, in most cultures, the new couple keeps the name of the male, the wife joining the man's family and not vice versa. So if a man becomes wealthy, the expectation was always that all of his land and money stays in the family via his sons -- they inherit everything and eventually have their own sons, the name and wealth of the family living on through this unbroken chain of penises.
But if somewhere down the line a son gets married and then dies, the moment the wife re-marries, the wealth leaves the family. That's why in some cultures a pair of brothers can marry a single woman at once. That way, should something happen to one of the males, they have a spare.
They're like reverse Mormons. Nomroms.
This is polyandry, which is common in some Tibetan and Nepalese communities. Its usual form is just what we said -- two brothers share a wife to keep the house under one family and keep the extended family under one roof. Sometimes, three brothers share a wife. Occasionally, four. Tibetans also have a variation we like to call intergenerational polyandry. A man may marry, have a son, and then lose his wife. He then remarries, and the son marries the new stepmother.
Both of them might sleep with the woman, and if she bears children, no one's exactly sure who the father is. Legally, the son is the father, potentially of his own brother. And the mother's first husband, the father to both sons, would be the grandfather to his younger son.
We haven't plotted the full tree, but someone's probably his own grandpa.
Some women in multiple-husband marriages still have children out of wedlock, and women are perfectly free to stay single or leave their husbands if they wish. There was even one case of a woman leaving all three of her husbands -- for her lover.
Nigeria Allowed People to Marry the Dead
As with several items on this list, you'll either be pleased or disappointed that the most horrifying/disgusting explanation doesn't happen to be true -- these were not cases of necrophilia here. The practice of marrying the dead in Onitsha, Nigeria, was all about getting around some rules. In this case, they had women who wanted/needed legal recognition as a spouse but had no living man willing to help. So, it's not like the dead guy is going to mind ...
Plus, wedding rites may keep him from rising out of the grave.
One famous case is Nnayelugo Nnebue Okonkwo, who died in Nigeria's Ogbotu village all the way back in 1931. Thirty years later, his sisters married the dead man to a willing woman. This woman gave birth to six children in the following years, and sources don't mention these kids' biological father because no one cared who he was -- in the eyes of the law, these children were the offspring of Nnayelugo Okonkwo.
This suited the wife and her children just fine, and it suited Okonkwo's sisters fine, too. The only people who weren't too keen on the arrangement were Okonkwo's actual biological children, who suddenly found themselves with brothers and sisters decades younger than them calling themselves heirs to their father's estate.
"They say they own the toy room. They don't know what that really means!"
The original Okonkwo children sued, but the courts had little sympathy. "Marrying the dead" had been an established practice under native law, and people couldn't suddenly try to end it just because it inconvenienced them.
The practice wasn't struck down until that very case reached the nation's supreme court, and the ancient practice was ruled to be kind of weird.
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.
The Mosuo in China Have No Concept of Marriage at All
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.