ABSTRACT

There is a danger of ethnocentrism in the study of marriage—which we do not face when studying the unambiguous events of birth and death—the danger of mistaking what another people call marriage with what we call marriage in our own or other societies. Some societies have been reported to perceive a child born of a marriage as entirely the product of either the mother or the father, or to see the father of the child as necessarily the mother’s husband, with no concept of biological as opposed to social paternity. In other societies, marriage serves important functions in determination of corporate group memberships, whereby adults may be formally severed from their place in the social structure at marriage, joining the group of the spouse. Marriage may also serve functions relating to the distribution of property and questions of inheritance may be crucial to marriage practices. In order to understand the !Kung system of marriage and the behavior of individuals in marriage, it is necessary to be clear what they mean by the term marriage, in distinction to what other people mean by it.