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Levirate and Sororate

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Published on Jan 15, 2011

A brief anthropological examination of and education on levirate and sororate practices throughout the world. [Check below for Voice-Over Guide.]

I apologize for any and all mispronunciations.

All of the pictures, music and film clips were the courtesy of other sources. I have NO RIGHTS OR CLAIMS to any of the following:

All of the pictures were located through Google.

Background music: Nightingale - Yanni from the Tribute album.

57 sec. film clip from BBC Australia's Journeyman Series: "The Dragon Kingdom."

[Voice Over Guide]

Levirate and Sororate are practices that lie within the broader topics of marriage and kinship. Collectively, they are marriage practices that help to establish and maintain social relationships within cultures.

Conrad Phillip Kottak defines levirate:

Levirate occurs when a widow marries her deceased husband's brother, or, when the widow remarries into her deceased spouse's group.

Sororate is the opposite, where a widowed man marries his deceased spouse's sister or someone also affiliated with the spouse's group.

The Mari, or Cheremis people of Eastern Russia, the Congolese of the Republic of Congo, and the Igbo Culture of Nigeria are three examples of levirate.

Three examples of cultures that practice sororate are the Gebusi of Papua New Guinea, the Swazi of Swaziland, and the Bhutanese of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

These practices are especially useful in uniting and classifying ties within the family through biological and social links. For example, African cultures such as the Congolese and the Swazi are predominantly levirate, but apply sororatic practice to ensure a healthy and secure upbringing for their extended families.

-One particular case study for sororate practice is the Kingdom of Bhutan, which borders India, China and Bangladesh. A man within the Kingdom of Bhutan can marry more than one woman, as long as he asks his first wife for permission. This marriage increases the agricultural labour force and strength among the involved families.

One of the primary examples found in Bhutan reside in the Druk Gyalpo, "The Dragon King." [FILM CLIP]

An example of a levirate culture are the Mari people of Eastern Russia, who reside in the Republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

Thomas Sebeok observed different rights affiliated with the practice. A younger brother had to marry the elder brother's widow, but the elder brother would not have the same rights towards the younger brother's wife if she were to be a widow.

Variants of leviratic and sororatic practice include, but are not excluded to:
-Ghost marriage among the Sudanese and Chinese -Posthumous marriage in France as a result of the Great World War
-And the group marriage practice of the Oneida Colony of New York State.




Bronislaw Malinowski says that marriage and kinship are institution that dominate most human societies. Parallels between our society and others differ because the context is always slightly different, resulting in cultural distortions of levirate and sororate that need to be documented.

Alfred Radcliffe-Brown reasons that because marriage is so economically, politically and socially linked, that all individuals affected by it want a say in it; they want to be heard.

Audrey Richards says that it is important to investigate particular aspects or adoptions within different societies because it is a different entry into the anthropological world.

It is extremely difficult to bring awareness of leviratic and sororatic practice to others if there is virtually no comprehensive research done on the subjects.

This lack of research also dates the current definitions of Levirate and Sororate. Like definitions before it, they need to be revised. Revisions should be made to emphasize not just a literal death, but a "death" of an essential role within the marriage - primarily the roles of reproduction and labour, which can be accomplished through other individuals introduced to the marriage alliance.

90% of human societies have arranged their marriages on the basis of
arrangement between partners, as opposed to a romantic love marriage as predominant in Western societies. Therefore, levirate and sororate do not represent a global marriage practice minority. In fact, they are majority practices that are under researched.

Levirate and sororate are not inconsequential, inconvenient, under practised on local or global scales, nor are they illogical. Inner logic can be found within the levirate and sororate practices if one is inspired to find it.

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