THE EXTENDED FAMILY

In document The ghotul in muria society (Page 164-178)

MOUNTAINS

6. THE EXTENDED FAMILY

The upper limit of genealogically specific kinship relations, leaving affinal relationships with saga out of account, is the lineage (gohor). The gohor is the maximal agnatic unit. The minimal kinship unit is the nuclear family (the hearth, one for each wife and her children). But in between these upper and lower limits lies the extended family, more difficult to define but at the same time a crucial unit for practical organizational purposes. It is in the extended family context that the domestic routines of production and reproduction are carried on, and this chapter is devoted to describing this basic aspect of Muria social structure.

The definitional and conceptual problems posed by the extended or

’joint’ family are not peculiar to the Muria. In Indian sociology generally

there have been many approaches adopted to the definition and measurement of ’jointness’ - which is generally agreed to be a fundamental feature of family organization in almost all sections of Hindu society. ’Jointness’ has been seen, on the one hand as a behavioral norm, a set of values, and on the other hand, as an attribute of a specific entity in the Hindu legal

code. ’Jointness’ has been seen in terms of residential cohabitation by a

plurality of nuclear families in a single dwelling or compound by certain authors, while others have seen ’jointness’ as compatible with residential dispersion, so long as the families involved have economic assets in common and function corporately in ritual. These approaches are not incompatible in all respects, but they leave undecided just which aspects of ’jointness’ - as understood in the literature on the Hindu joint family - are typologically crucial, and would enable one to say whether the Muria extended family is a ’tribal’ variant of the standard Indian type. The most widely accepted authority on these matters (Shah 1979) has emphasized the resilience of the joint family in the modern context, which he sees as arguing against the joint ’household’ (residential jointness) as the crucial element in defining the institution. The non-residentially compact

’joint family' is a collection of ’socially incomplete’ elementary

residential units, which are not capable of independent action and

decision making. Such ’joint families’ may exist even where household surveys reveal a preponderance of nuclear family dwelling units. One can easily grasp the relevance of Shah's point of view in understanding the continuing role of joint family organization in the context of the modern, socially heterogeneous city, and the contrast which exists between the Indian family and the much more isolated and autonomous Western nuclear family pattern in similar contexts. But to define jointness in terms of a commonality of interests and cooperation in action contexts unifying nuclear families at any level, it seems that this approach is too wide and all-encompassing to provide an operational definition of jointness appropriate to the Muria case. Relationships among Muria nuclear families are in any case so involved and multiplex that no outer boundary of the ’joint family' could be specified in terms of Shah's criteria - the entire gohor, even the whole village, is ’joint’ in the broad sense; but there are important distinctions which still have to be drawn. The problem, essentially, is that the Muria both recognize irreducible nuclear family units, with their own proper domain of rights and interests, but at the same time they also recognize the existence of extended families with common interests, sometimes residentially compact in a single dwelling or compound, but not always so.

It seems better, in fact, not to speak of the Muria family as ’joint’ at all, since this carries with it the implication of the non-existence of the elementary family as an autonomous unit; and instead speak of the Muria ’extended family’ as a separate entity from the nuclear family, one which has to be understood as a complex in its own right. The Muria nuclear family is not ’incomplete’ socially - nor is the relation between the nuclear family and the extended family that of a part to the whole. The moralistic, patriarchal, implications which 'jointness’ carries with it in the context of the standard Hindu joint family are lacking in the Muria case. The Muria extended family is a political bloc, a grouping of nuclear families around a shared social objective of maximising prestige and power within the village, not an authoritarian institution held together by religious sanctions and the hierarchical potestas of the joint family head. The merging of social identities in the joint family as a corporate body is foreign to Muria social attitudes; as I will describe later on, Muria fathers lose all authority over their sons when the latter attain

a d u l t h o o d . Muria a d u l t s a r e autonomous i n d i v i d u a l s and t h e e t h o s o f Muria c u l t u r e s t r e s s e s i n d i v i d u a l i s m and r e s p e c t s t h e p r i v a c y and p r i v i l e g e s o f t h e i n d i v i d u a l n u c l e a r f a mi l y , even as i t e n c o u r a g e s each n u c l e a r f a m i l y head t o show t h e k in d o f e xte nd e d f a m i l y s o l i d a r i t y upon which p o l i t i c a l e f f e c t i v e n e s s i n t h e v i l l a g e depends .

In l o o k i n g a t t h e Muria extende d f a m i l y t h e r e f o r e , one must d i s r e g a r d t h e mo ra l, i d e a l i s t i c v i s i o n o f t h e Hindu j o i n t f a m i l y and view t h e e x t e nd e d f a m i l y as a p r a c t i c a l g r o u p i n g o f l i n e a l k i n w i t h t h e i r n u c l e a r f a m i l i e s . The s p e c i f i c r a t i o n a l e b e h i n d t h e e x i s t e n c e o f an e xtended f a m i l y which i s a l s o r e s p o n s i b l e f o r g i v i n g t h i s body o f k i n i d e n t i t y a p a r t from t h e gohor, i s economic and p o l i t i c a l c o o p e r a t i o n . But s i n c e r e s i d e n t i a l c l u s t e r s a r e t h e v i s i b l e m a n i f e s t a t i o n o f s o l i d a r i t y between l i n e a l k i n , and s i n c e t h e house i s a v i t a l p a r t o f t h e Muria c o n c e p t o f f a m i l y , i t i s n e c e s s a r y t o d i s c u s s t y p e s o f r e s i d e n t i a l c l u s t e r s and h o u s e s .

The house i s t h e c o n c r e t e r e f e r e n t f o r t h e i n d i g e n e o u s c o n c e p t o f f a m i l y . A ’h o u s e ’ ( Ion) i m p l i e s a f a m i l y and a l l t h e r e s i d e n t s o f a s i n g l e house, o r o f a c l u s t e r o f h ou s es p h y s i c a l l y p r o x i m a t e t o each o t h e r and e n c i r c l e d by a common boundary f e n c e , a r e ’’I o t a b a r j a ” or ’’p e o p l e o f t h e h o u s e ” . A boundary f e n c e , whe ther o f t h e t e m p o r a r y bamboo or w a t t l e t y p e , o r o f t h e t r a d i t i o n a l t y p e made o u t o f s l a t t e d l o g s s t a k e d i n t o t h e ground, i s t h e v i s i b l e marker o f r e s i d e n t i a l u n i t y , a l t h o u g h w i t h i n i t s c o n f i n e s i n d i v i d u a l houses may be s i t e d s e p a r a t e l y a s w e l l as a d j u n c t t o one a n o t h e r . The Muria do n ot make t e r m i n o l o g i c a l d i s t i n c t i o n s between t h e o c c u p a n t s o f one p a r t i c u l a r d w e l l i n g and t h o s e o f o t h e r s l i v i n g i n t h e same r e s i d e n t i a l c l u s t e r w i t h i n t h e f e n c e . T h i s , a l o n g w i t h t h e f a c t t h a t t h e making o f f e n c e s i s p r o h i b i t e d t o women s u g g e s t s t h a t t h e homestead and house i s i d e n t i f i e d w i th t h e p a t r i l i n e a l group. Women c a nn ot c o n s t r u c t f e n c e s b e c au s e t h e s e d e f i n e t h e a g n a t i c b l o c s between which women move v i a m a r r i a g e exchange. Members o f t h e e x t en de d f a m i l y o f t e n , b u t n o t always, belong t o a r e s i d e n t i a l c l u s t e r , and s i m i l a r l y t h e r e s i d e n t i a l c l u s t e r sometimes c o mp r i s e s o f i n d i v i d u a l s o u t s i d e t h e e xte nd e d f a mi l y , i . e . d a u g h t e r ’s husband and t h e i r n u c l e a r f a m i l i e s , o r k a m i y a a l s and t h e i r wives. Residence i s an i m p o r t a n t c r i t e r i o n which conveys an i m p r e s s i o n t o t h e Muria t h e m s e l v e s o f a s o l i d a r y e x t e nd e d f a m i l y which i s p o l i t i c a l l y

s a l i e n t . The r e s i d e n t i a l c l u s t e r o f h o u s e h o l d s e s t a b l i s h e s an i d e n t i f y i n g framework and i s r e g a r d e d by o t h e r s i n t h e v i l l a g e as an homogeneous s o c i a l u n i t . But t h e r e i s no isomorphism between t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p s w i t h i n t h e component n u c l e a r f a m i l i e s w i t h i n t h e r e s i d e n t i a l u n i t and t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p s between them: t h e homestead i s n o t t h e n u c l e a r f a m i l y w r i t l a r g e . The r e s i d e n t i a l Ion and l o t a b a r j a does n o t a c t a s i f i t were a s i n g l e , l a r g e h ou s eh o l d and does n o t have t h e o r g a n i c a l l y f us e d q u a l i t y t h a t i s c h a r a c t e r i s t i c o f t h e Hindu j o i n t f a m i l y .

The p i c t u r e o f t h e Muria e xte nd e d f a m i l y and t h e u n i t r e f e r r e d t o as a ’house* (I on ) i s r e n d e r e d more complex by t h e f a c t t h a t i n Muria c o u n t r y t o d a y two q u i t e d i f f e r e n t s t y l e s o f d o m e s t i c a r c h i t e c t u r e c o - e x i s t s i d e by s i d e . The t r a d i t i o n a l Muria house c o n s i s t s o f a r e c t a n g u l a r h u t , u s u a l l y w a l l e d w i t h w a t t l e - a n d - d a u b and t h a t c h e d w i t h r e e d s , which c a n n o t be s u b d i v i d e d i n t o more t h a n two rooms, u s u a l l y an i n n e r s t o r e - r o o m and a

In document The ghotul in muria society (Page 164-178)