Dani Marriage Patterns
Dani marriage patterns reflect a pervasive moiety structure and a system
of polygyny based on bridewealth payments.
All Dani are divided into two exogamous patrilineal divisions, or moieties,
named Wida and Waija.
Accordingly, a Wida man or woman is forbidden to marry or have sexual
relations with Wida member of the opposite sex and must marry into the
opposite moiety. Waija people must follow the corresponding rules for
Dani men are allowed to marry more than one wife but women are restricted
to a single husband. Heider's 1963 census figures indicated a significant
amount of polygyny, as 30% of adult males had two or more wives. From the
women's perspective, however, the rate was much higher, as 70% of wives
were involved in polygynous marriages. Most multiple marriages involve
two or three wives, but one man was recorded as married to nine women.
Number of Wives/Husband
Polygyny among the Dani is based on an unequal age of marriage between
the sexes. Almost all women are married shortly after puberty and may even
a wedding ceremony before then, as sexual relations are allowed only several
years after the initial rites. Men, however, wait many years after maturity
before marriage. (Heider's figures showed that almost 40% of all adult
men are unmarried at any one time.) Thus the Dani system supports a high
rate of multiple marriage but also allows almost all males to get married
during the course of their lifetimes. This arrangement is quite widespread
in polygynous systems.
The Dani system of polygyny is supported by the process of accumulating
wealth in the form of pigs, shells, and stone valuables and is, in turn,
closely integrated into the male ranking or "big man" system.
Thus both wives and the objects though which they are acquired stand as
a sign of male status. The actual exchange of bride payments takes on a
complex character spread over a number of transactions between the husband's
and wife's family during the course of the marriage. Occasions for
- The wedding: at which a girl is dressed in an adult woman's skirt to
mark her maturity and sent to her husband's household.
- The consumation of the marriage: at which the husband is given permission
to begin sexual relations with his wife.
- The birth of a child of the marriage
- A son's inititiation
- A daughter's marriage
- A child's death
Items Donated by:
||6 je stone
|Birth of Child
|Death of a child
The transactions involved in the course of the marriage reflect not
only the exchange of values but the use of wealth to validate and perpetuate
social relationships between the sets of affines involved. Thus in many
of the presentations, one group returns the same types of goods (pigs,
shells, stone) that it has already received with little net advantage.
© Brian Schwimmer
University of Manitoba
Date Created: October 1, 1997