Despite the current sexual revolution, the majority of marriages around the world are still arranged by family or relatives. But marriages based on romantic love are hard to prevent when the younger generation has access to television, Bollywood, and the Internet (see Noonan’s brief discussion of “Sexuality and American Popular Culture” in the U.S. chapter). Almost anything can happen when the older generation(s) in an extended family plan a traditional arranged marriage when a son or daughter is determined to have a Western romantic marry-the-one-you-love view of marriage. How do families cope? How do they compromise?
Our International Encyclopedia has many examples. The one I like best involves the very traditional Berber tribal society in Morocco. Harnadi and Fatima were going along, happily married, when Harnadi decided that it was time to acquire a second wife. Within days, everyone in his immense, extended family was squabbling. Fatima threatened to divorce Harnadi if he married again. She refused to share her house with another woman. Fatima’s brothers warned Harnadi that if Harnadi and Fatima got a divorce, they would reclaim all the land she had brought into the marriage. (Harnadi had spent years planting fruit and nut trees on the property.) Fatima threatened to take their twin daughters to her brother’s house as well. Technically, Hamadi’s family “owned” the infants, but since they were still nursing, he would have to wait two years to collect them. In Morocco, twins are considered to be baraka (good fortune); if Harnadi’s daughters left, people might conclude that good fortune had left Harnadi’s house. To add to Harnadi’s woes, Fatima issued a final warning. If Harnadi divorced her, she would march bare-breasted to the weekly market.
This left him badly shaken. Things got worse. One of Fatima’s brothers had married Harnadi’s cousin. He announced that if there was to be bad blood between the two families, he would divorce his wife. Harnadi’s mother complained that the money Harnadi had saved for a second wife should be spent on Hamadi’s son Ali, who had just turned 15. He needed money for his wedding. Finally, a tired Harnadi surrendered. He concluded, “Women are to be gotten around, but I guess I won’t get around these.”
When other “all powerful” Moroccan fathers try to force their children into unappealing marriages, sympathetic family members often employ an avalanche of strategies to thwart them. Young lovers persuade mothers, uncles, brothers, neighbors, and business partners to plead on their behalf. One fond mother slyly hinted that a prospective bride her son secretly disliked was bad tempered, lazy, and had a bad reputation. When his father forced Abdallah to marry a woman he disliked, Abdallah claimed his wife was a witch. He divorced her and married the woman he had been attracted to in the first place. After that, his poor father’s alliances were really in shambles.
Another strategy the younger generation relies on is witchcraft or magical charms. One woman warned an unappealing suitor (Haddu) that she had visited a dhazubrith (witch) and obtained a spell that was guaranteed to make him impotent. The marriage took place, but the hapless Haddu was unable to “become stiff.” He tried counter-charms, but to no avail. He finally agreed to dissolve the marriage. Some strategies work, some don’t.
Talk about the clash of civilizations!
Robert T. Francoeur, Co-Editor of CCIES