Understanding the family system of Tribal India – Essay

In communities where the system of matrilocal family pre­vails, the daughter is greatly valued. She will always remain with the family and will not be lost at marriage, whereas the boys will go to live with the families of their wives.

The daughter is a complete fulfillment to the mother. She is her mother’s constant companion in joy and sorrow, additional hands and feet for an overburdened body, secu­rity in old age, and contributor of children to her clan.

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In India, there are some tribal groups which have matrilocal fami­lies. The Khasi tribes of Assam who are found in the Jayantia hills have a tradition of matrilocal family. Similar primitive groups are also found in the southern parts of the country.

(ii) Patrilocal Family:

This is a kind of family wherein a woman after marriage comes and lives with her husband. In this kind of family the descent is also traced through the male line. Most of the tribal families are patrilocal. Men­tion may be made in this connection of the Kharia, Ho Bhil and Gond. This is the general pattern of family found all over the country.

Descent:

(i) Patrilineal Family:

In this type of family the authority rests with the oldest male of the family. The patrilineal family is also patrilocal. This is the general pat­tern of family found all over the world. Among Hindus and also Muslims in our country the line of descent is reckoned through the male head.

Recently, due to the women’s movement, the women are also made as the legal guardians of their sons and daughters.

In India, patrilineal families are found in Gond, Santhal, Bhil and Ho tribes. The tribals of north-east also have patrilineal type of fam­ily. In this family major decisions are taken by the male head. Successor is also appointed by the male head of family.

(ii) Matrilineal Family:

In this family the authority lies with the female head. This kind of family is also matrilocal and descent is traced through the mother. In our country some tribal groups in the south and the Khasis of Assam are matrilineal.

Inheritance:

Yet another basis of classification of family is inheritance. Inheritance and descent are different. Descent is reckoned with the male or female line, whereas inheritance is traditional and all the members in the fam­ily generally do not get right of inheritance. Inheritance means to get the property of family after the lifetime of the father.

Broadly speak­ing, in patriarchal families, all the male members inherit the family property. After the death of the father, the eldest son is looked upon with respect since he represents his deceased father.

Sometimes, the male head may distribute the family property even during his lifetime. This kind of family is usually patrilineal and patrilocal.

In matriarchal family the inheritance is through the mother.

Marriage:

This type of family is based on the number of spouses the man or woman has. We have three such types: (i) monogamy, (ii) polygyny, and (iii) polyandry.

(i) Monogamous Family:

This type of family is the general pattern of family where the husband and wife live together. It is the conjugal family and one husband has one wife only. This is the general pattern found in all societies.

(ii) Polygynous Family:

In polygynous family a man has more than one wife. Generally, this type is found among the primitives. Only a wealthy minority can ob­tain wives and other poorer men are deprived. Sometimes it reflects the inferiority of women in the society, and indicates that wives may be purchased.

A man who has many wives has great prestige. In such families women do not object to their husband’s taking on additional wives. This practice was popular among some tribals in central India. In the past, a Bhil had a large number of wives. According to a folk song prevalent among the Bhils of western India, a male could have as many as twelve wives.

However, there is enough empirical evidence found even today that among the Bhils there has been a strong prac­tice of polygyny. The relation between co-wives is usually friendly but competition for the husband’s attention is possible.

Sometimes, in polygynous family wives have separate huts and domestic utensils. A wise husband will try to be impartial among his wives, but the poten­tial instability of the system is generally recognized.

(iii) Polyandrous Family:

In this type of family a woman has several husbands. Outside India, it is found in Tibet. In South India, the Todas of the Nilgiris practise polyandry. This is due to a shortage of women as a consequence of fe­male infanticide.

Generally, in a family with three or four brothers, the brothers live together and share their wife without friction or jeal­ousy. The polyandrous family is increasingly becoming extinct.