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here comes another bride

October 10, 2010

For my blog today, I have copied the blog that my co-worker Joy Candee posted. It is about the custom of sister exchange in arranged marriages. What she wrote seemed to describe well what was happening from an observer’s perspective.

“I have written before a bit about the custom of sister exchanges in the Bosavi area but here is a little more explanation with some examples. I am by no means an expert and much of this information simply comes from observing and being told stories about various marriages and sister exchanges. Because it still happens quite frequently there will I’m sure be other opportunities for me to learn more in the future.

The act of sister exchanges were traditionally meant to be a built in security for each couple. Because a daughter from each family was living with the other family, this gave more incentive for her to be treated well. It also provided an extra bit of a bargaining chip in the event that something didn’t go well. There also are some cases where one of the couples is happy and wants to stay together but the other couple is not. So when the unhappy couple splits, then the happy couple is also forced to do so because the sister exchange is no longer valid.

This concept of sister exchange is also very interesting in cases of premarital sex or rape (the Tok Pisin word is the same for both so except for the reactions of the people (and in some cases the compliance of the couple) it is hard to distinguish one from the other as an outside observer). When this happens the young lady’s family usually calls for the couple who had sex to get married but part of this agreement includes one of the man’s sisters also agreeing to marry one of the lady’s brothers.

And sometimes this is made even more complicated by other extenuating circumstances. Last year there was a case of rape but afterwards there arose a physical fight where someone was hurt and allegedly killed (some people believe that he had a pre-existing condition that he would have died from anyway). In this case there was a compensation demand from the side of the man who was killed. And because of the intertwining of rape in the situation, a woman was actually given as part of the compensation to marry someone from the other side of the conflict. But if I am correct about who the woman is, she is now pregnant and at least seemingly content with her situation. She looks healthy and has been back for about a week in the village probably visiting her family.

There is currently another situation going on in the village where a couple had sex and the family is demanding that they marry. The couple who had sex want to get married but the man’s sister is very unhappy about being given in exchange. And so yesterday there were discussions all day regarding this situation. Later in the afternoon this even turned into physical fighting but then calmed down to just talking strong again. The first demand is of course for the sister in exchange but they are also discussing bride price which began at 12 thousand kina and 20 pigs and by the end of the day was half that much. It still isn’t decided and hopefully a decision will come soon that will give peace to both sides. The discussions are still continuing today and from our house we have a nice view to the other side of the ridge where this is all happening but it’s not really the kind of entertainment we enjoy.

Yesterday during work hours we did have a conversation with our co-workers about how the church in Walagu is responding to this. Sex outside of marriage is not a problem simply isolated to the Onobasulu. The Bible does teach that sex was created for the enjoyment of a married couple. And this will not be understood and followed by young adults before marriage and spouses within marriage if it is not truly believed in their hearts. The Bible also teaches forgiveness for those who have already sinned and that there is healing in the arms of Jesus. It will be interesting to see how the Onobasulu church does decide to respond in a way that best fits the Onobasulu culture.”

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