The institution of marriage among the tribals is different from that in the Hindu society. Marriage among the tribaSs is not a religious sacrament but a social contract with the purposes of enjoyment of sex, procreation and companionship. The forms of marriage, the ceremonies, the taboos and the laws of dissolution of marriage are different in the tribal world from civilized society.
Forms of marriage in tribes
Normally the tribal male marries only one woman, because he is not enough to maintain more than one wife and secondly the number of males and females in a tribe is usually equal. The following are the important forms of getting a mate in tribal society.
1. Marriage by purchase
The most prevalent method of securing bride in primitive societies is marriage by purchase. This is equivalent to Asur marriage described in Hindu scriptures. According to Robert Lowie, however, the bride price is not paid as the price for the girl but symbolizes her utility for the male and the compensation to the parents for giving away their daughter in marriage.
Again among some Indian tribes there is the custom of dowry, which finishes the value of bride price. This is particularly true about Santhal, Ho, Oraon, Kharian, Gond, Naga, Kuki and Bhils among Indian tribes.
Like Hindus, the problem of bride price is becoming complex in tribal society. In the Singh Bhumi district the amount of bride price in the Ho tribe is so much that very few persons can pay it, with the result that other forms of marriage are preferred.
2. Service marriage
This is a special type of marriage by purchase. While in marriage by purchase the bridegroom gives some money or gift to his father-in-law, in service marriage he pays off for the marriage in terms of service rendered to his father-in-law.
This custom is particularly found among those persons who are too poor to pay any money as bride price. In the Gond tribe the bridegroom, desirous of marrying through service, is known as Lamnai and Lamsena in Vaiga tribe. In Himachal Pradesh he is known as Kamaoos.
In service marriage the youth has to serve his future father-in-law for three to five years. During this period if the father of the girl is satisfied with the youth, he gives his daughter in marriage to him. If, however, the father is dissatisfied, he dismisses the youth and gives this chance to another person. During the course of service the young man can meet the girl but cannot enter into sex relationship with her.
3. Marriage by capture
An important method of securing a bride in Indian tribes is marriage by capture. This form of marriage is prevalent due to different types of causes. In the Ho tribe its cause is the excessive bride price. Another cause is the misbehavior to the woman by her sister-in-law so that the woman is always waiting for someone to carry her by force.
Though the relatives apparently try to revenge for the capture of the girl but in 99% cases the capture is regularized by means of marriage in which the young man has only to apply vermilion on the forehead of the girl.
The custom of marriage by capture is found among the Santhal, Munda, Bhumij, Gond, Bhil and Naga tribes. Among the Bhumij tribe, it is considered to the best form of marriage, so much so that even after the settlement of marriage the parents of the girl request the bridegroom to run away with the bride.
In the Kharia and Birhor tribe of Bihar if a young man forcibly applies vermillion and oil on the forehead of a girl, she is declared his wife. Among the Nagas of Assam, a cause of marriage by capture is the dearth of women in their own tribe due to the evil custom of killing just born daughters. With the application of Indian Penal Code in Tribal circles, the custom of marriage by capture is gradually disappearing.
4. Marriage by mutual consent and elopement
An interesting form of securing a bride prevalent in Indian tribes is marriage by mutual consent and elopement. This was known as Gandharva marriage in the ancient Hindu scriptures. Among the Ho tribe of Bihar it is known as ‘Rajikhushi’ marriage.
In this form of marriage the girl elopes with a young man by her own consent and does not return to parents till they consent for marriage. Naturally, no bride price is demanded in this type of marriage.
5. Marriage by exchange
In this type of marriage when a man’sson is prepared to marry another’s daughter, the latter’s son accepts the former’s daughter in marriage; thus an exchange of boys and girls is made between the two families.
6. Probationary marriage
This system of marriage is found in the Kuki tribe of Assam. In this system the bridegroom stays in the house of the girl for a certain period. If during this probation period they decide to marry, the marriage ceremony is solemnized, otherwise the young man leaves after paying some compensation to the parents of the girl.
7. Anader or intrusion marriage
This method of marriage is followed if all other valid sources of marriage have been closed so much so that even the parents of the girls fail to marry her with the desired boy. In this type of marriage the girl forcibly enters the house of her lover and dees not leave it in spite of bearing all types of insults and cruelties. If she does not leave the house for a sufficient period, she is married with the young man. This custom of marriage is found among the Oraon, Ho and Brishor tribes.
8. Marriage by test
In this type of marriage the young man is allowed to marry the girl of his choice after he successfully passes the test for his bravery. A strange custom of this type of marriage is found among Bhil tribe which is known as Gol Gadbedo.
In it a social function is celebrated around a tree or a high pole at the top of which a coconut and some sweets are put. The boys and girls dance around this pole or tree, the girls remaining nearer the tree and the boys forming their circle outside the circle of the girls.
Now a young man suddenly tries to break the circle of the girls and reaches the pole or tree, eats the sweets and breaks the coconut.
The girls beat him and try to restrain him. If he comes out successful in this aim he is given a right to select any girl from the gathering as his wife.
Besides the above mentioned methods securing a bride found among the Indian tribe there are some other methods as well. Of these the following two are worth mentioning :
In this type of marriage when a person dies, his younger brother marries his wife. This custom is found in the Santhal, Gond and Kharia tribes among others.
In this type of marriage when the wife dies, the husband marries her unmarried sister. This type of marriage is found in Gond and Kharia tribes.
Ceremonies of Marriage
The celebration of marriage in a tribe is a social occasion for much festivity and rejoicing though the marriage ceremonies are quite simple. In some tribes the mere application of vermilion on the forehead of the girl by the bridegroom is the sole ceremony of marriage.
In some other tribes, the blood of the bride and the bridegroom are mixed as a token of their intimate union. In Gond tribe the procession of marriage starts from the bride’s place instead of from the bridegroom’s house.
There are almost no religious sanskaras observed on the occasion of a tribal marriage, but generally there is provision for community songs and dances and feasts.