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A Pig for the Bride


Marriage-payment is an important feature of all marriages in almost every society at all level of socio-cultural development. Mainly it is seen in two forms - dowry and bride-wealth. The latter is largely associated with tribal societies. An essential part of all bride wealth payment is the inclusion of an animal in the list - pig, goat, sheep, buffalo, and cattle. While these payments are seen in economic perspective - as compensation to the bride's family - their social role is usually ignored. This paper examines the role of the pig in the bride-wealth of the Sauria Paharia - the Maler - of Santhal Pargana of Jharkhand.


There is no known society, present or past, without the institution of marriage. The forms of marriage may vary; the rules of selection of the marriage partner may differ, the ways of celebrating and consummating the marriage may diverge, the functions it performs may be at variance, but the marriage is a universal institution.

Another universal feature is the marriage-payment. In every society, marriages are settled after a negotiation between the two sides as regards the payments - total amount, mode of payment, items to be included etc. Usually these payments are made by one family to another family, i.e. the bride and bridegroom are not involved, either during negotiation or during payment. When these payments are made by the family of the bride, it is called dowry, while the payment by the bridegroom's family is known as the bride-wealth. The latter system of payment is the hallmark of tribal societies. The economic transaction is common to both.

Dowry is mostly associated with economically developed, food-producing, irrigation-based agricultural societies, where the role of the women in overall economic organization is marginal or insignificant. Taking away a woman is perceived as an economic relief to the bride's family, and a burden to the bridegroom's family, requiring a compensation to be paid by bride's family. Here the movement of bride and bride-wealth are in the same direction. Most tribal societies, on the other hand, depend upon foraging, pastoralism, and swiddening (shifting or terrace cultivation). These economic pursuits entail active participation of women. Thus women have major economic value in tribal society, where taking away a woman from the family is seen as adding economic hardship to the bride's family and providing advantage to the bridegroom's family, necessitating a compensation to be paid by the latter. Here the movement of bride and bride-wealth is in the opposite direction. Both ignore the role of women in bearing and rearing the children, and maintaining the household.

The difference between who pays whom is not the only distinction between the two modes of marriage-payments. Another feature that is associated with tribal society is the permission of divorce. In sharp contrast to dowry society, a divorcee woman in tribal societies carries no social stigma and remarriage is freely allowed. A woman is allowed a divorce on legitimate grounds (usually impotence, drunkenness, etc.), the grounds of divorce varying from society to society. In such cases where the divorce is initiated by the husband or the wife has legitimate grounds, the bride's family can keep the bride wealth, but when the divorce is initiated by the woman and refuses to live with the husband without a legitimate cause, the return of bride-wealth becomes necessary. It is here that the animal given at the time of marriage comes into play.

The Maler Marriage

The Sauria Paharia, or the Maler, is a swiddening tribe of Santhal Pargana in Jharkhand. Living on the hill-tops and carrying shifting cultivation (called Kurwa or Khallu) on the slopes of the hill, growing mainly maize and millet, the Maler is facing depopulation. Due to large scale deforestation their cultivation is poor and they have to depend on the minor forest produce of the forests for survival. Even this is dwindling to a trickle.

They are a clan-less tribe and reckon only minimal lineage for selection of marriage partners. This means that excepting relatives up to three generations bilaterally, marriage is permissible with all. Both intra- and inter-village marriages are in vogue, though the latter has greater social value and is considered more honourable. Among Maler the marriage takes place when the boy has become about 16 yrs old and the girl has attained puberty. Any deferment at this stage is only due to the economic consideration on the part of the boy's family. Selection of bride is done by the boy and he need not take the permission of his parents. He merely conveys his choice to his parents through his friends. The parents have to agree.

Thereafter, a sitto (mediator) is selected. The sitto has a very important place in the marriage ceremony. No marriage can take place without him, because he has to carry on the negotiations. The boy or his parents cannot negotiate directly with the girl's parents. Usually two sittos are selected as a precaution against one of them being busy on the appointed day. A sitto is any elderly, unrelated person who can communicate effectively, and has some experience in such matters. The girl's parents are informed that they may expect them (the sittos) on a specific day. A sitto from the girl's side is selected by the boy's sitto. On the appointed day, the two sittos will go to the girl's village and seek the permission of the Manjhiye (Head of the village) to carry on negotiation for marriage by offering him a bottle of wine. When his permission is granted all the three sittos will then go to the girl's house to offer her a Gamccha (Towel). The towel is a symbol. If the girl accepts it she consents to the marriage. If she refuses to accept, the sittos will return and the wine spent so far is wasted.

After she accepts the towel, the sittos will sit with the parents and offer them wine. Having drunk to their heart's content, a date for the negotiation will be fixed and the sittos will return back. Next time, the father of the boy will accompany the sittos, and again wine is offered to the parents of the girl. Thereafter the negotiations for the Paun (Bride-wealth) will commence. The girl's father will ask for about Rs. 500/-, the boy's sitto will offer Rs. 10/-. Usually, the Paun is settled at between Rs.51/- and Rs. 201/-, the amount depending on the attributes of the girl, and the degree of seriousness on the boy's part. Also, the parents of the girl do not insist on higher amount because they are not sure when their daughter will decide to leave the boy. In that case they will have to return the Paun. Along with cash, clothes for the bride, spices, mustard oil, etc. are also discussed and the amount agreed upon. The pig is a compulsory item. It is understood and is never a part of negotiations. Other items given at the time of marriage are Murhi, Chura, and sweets (mainly Jalebi).

All the items, including the pig, are brought along with the Barat. It is the responsibility of the three Sittos (two on boy's side, one on girl's side) to remember every item. In future, if need arises, they will be called upon to provide the list. With every item displayed to the satisfaction of all, the materials are kept in the hut of Girl's Sitto. The Chacha and Mama are then requested to kill the pig. In the meantime, the barat and all the villagers, including the bridegroom and the bride, start dancing and singing, which goes on far into the night.

The hosts have to provide the drinks. The feeding of the Barat is the responsibility of the Boy's side. The hosts may arrange it if they so desire. There is a drinking spree in which all the adult members of the village take part. When the Chacha and Mama have killed and cut the pig, actual marriage ceremony starts. It is not an elaborate affair and is completed in a very short time.

A portion of the pig's meat and rice is cooked and brought to the hut of the girl's father. The girl is called back from the dancing. The brother of the bride sits on the floor with outstretched legs and the bride sits in his lap. The cooked meat and rice is brought and the sitto makes the bridegroom offer the meat and rice to the bride five times. Then the bride is asked to offer the same to the bridegroom. After that the boy puts vermillion on the forehead of the bride five times. The bride does the same. When the exchange of food and vermillion is over, the brother of the bride tells the Sitto (not the bridegroom), "I am giving you the girl in one piece. The maal (commodity) is good. If and when they separate return her to me in the same condition". The Sitto orders the bridegroom to hold the hands of the bride and take her home. Sitto offers Rs.5/- to the Manjhiye of the village as a token of thanks and sacrifices a fowl at the Singpate Nadu (the main sacred centre of the village).

The marriage ceremony is over. Actually the only serious and detailed procedure in the whole affair is the killing and distribution of the meat of the pig. This distribution is precise and interesting. It is as follows:

The Division of the Pig
A - For Barat
B - For Chacha and Mama as remuneration for killing the pig
C, D, F - For the Bride's side
E - For Bridegroom's side

Piece A, the head, is reserved for the Barat and will be served to them when they go back to the Bridegroom's house after the marriage ceremony is over.

Piece B, the four legs, is divided among the Chacha (Father's Brother) and Mama (Mother's Brother) as the wages for killing the pig after the arrival of the Barat but before the marriage ceremony begins.

Piece E, the hind portion, is given to the boy's family. They do not consume it, but divide it further into four parts and distribute the parts as follows:

Distribution of the Pig's Meat out of Bridegroom's Share

Radial Diagram

Pieces C, D, and F are also divided into fifteen equal parts and distributed as follows. This distribution is very important and plays a crucial role later on in the event of a divorce.


Radial Diagram

This distribution is done on the day of marriage. Everybody who partakes of the meat, on both sides, is a witness to the fact that so-and-so has married so-and-so and that all the formalities have been duly completed. The girl's relatives, who share the meat, have additional responsibility. They are the guarantors that the girl is in proper condition, will accept the boy as her husband, and will properly attend to all her wifely responsibilities.


The divorce among the Maler is very easy and very frequent. It is rare for the first marriage to survive more than five years. Usually the marriages break down within two years. The economic role of the women in Maler society permits them to be independent enough to seek divorce if dissatisfied with the present husband for any reason whatever. As stated earlier, if a woman seeks a divorce without a legitimate (i.e. socially acceptable) cause, the bride-wealth her family received at the time of marriage has to be returned.

And the reasons for divorce are as varied as people themselves are. A girl named Chandi, in village Benderi in Borio Block, had married three times and she was still in her teens. The first divorce was because her husband did not buy a single dress for her in one year. She divorced the second one because the boy did not enter the hut where her mother was lying ill. She was planning to divorce the third one also because he was having an affair with another woman. Another case of divorce occurred because the wife wanted to cook vegetable of jackfruit while the husband wanted her to cook spinach. The altercation led to a fisticuff between them and ultimately to divorce the next day.

One of the reasons for high incidence of divorce is the comparatively lower amount and value of bride-wealth in Maler society and relatively smaller property holding. There is no squabble over the children either, because the Maler is a patrilineal society and the children of the marriage belong to father.

Like marriage, divorce is also not an elaborate affair. All the girl has to do is to tear a leaf of any plant in the presence of any elderly person of the village, particularly the person who officiated as sitto in her marriage. The husband has only to say that he is divorcing his wife. And that is that. The divorce is complete. A token amount of Rs. One is paid to the Manjhiye of the village who purchases something edible (usually Murhi) and distributes it among the villagers. The divorce is now legal.

If the husband divorces the wife the matter ends there. The wife goes back to her father's family. But if the wife divorces and the husband cannot be held to be fully responsible, as in the case of Chandi noted above, the question of return of bride-wealth comes up. The sitto who officiated in the marriage provides a list of the items. All the gifts, including the cash, have long been used. The Maler lives a hand-to-mouth existence, and finds it very hard to arrange for the return of the bride wealth. The parents are in a fix. But they have to arrange it somehow. Usually they encourage the girl to marry again so that the previous bride-wealth can be paid back out of the new bride-wealth, even though the amount is lesser in second and subsequent marriages. Sometimes, if a woman divorces because of love with another person, that man arranges for the return of the bride wealth.

The Role of the Pig

But what if the father is dead by the time of divorce? Her mother is responsible for the return of the bride wealth. If she is also dead? Look at the distribution chart of the pig's meat above in clock-wise direction beginning from father. All persons who shared the meat on the day of her marriage are accountable. After the parents, the siblings, the uncles, the grandparents, the sitto, and all patrilateral relatives are responsible for the return of the bride wealth in descending order. Here the role of the sitto is important. Even though he may not be related to the girl in any way, he has greater responsibility than the distant relatives. Thus the pig is not only important in the marriage festivities; it is also used to determine the closeness of the relatives.


This paper discusses the role of the pigs in Maler marriages. It shows that a pig is used not just for the transfer of property, as in many African tribes like Nuer, but has a socio-cultural value. It provides the meat for marriage festivities and determines the responsibility of repaying the bride-wealth in the event of a divorce initiated by the wife.


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Singh, P. K.

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Vidyarthi, L. P.

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