Marriages were briefly introduced but its real complexity needs to be studied in detail because of its important function in Abisi Cultural History.
Abisi have five types of marriages. They make a sharp distinction between the marriage of unmarried girls and the marriage of already married women.
Marriage of Unmarried Girls
An unmarried Abisi girl ideally marries three young men belonging to three different sections.
The spouse choice rests on the boy’s father for the first marriage, the girl herself for the second and the girl’s mother for the third.
She marries them on the same day.
These marriages are permanent, she doesn’t divorce to change husband and can move between her husbands as she may decide but she stays only with one at the time.
These three marriages are:
1) RINER: the first marriage is /isus riner/ is the “bride service work marriage”), The “first marriage» is a betrothal, organized by the father of a young man of about fourteen years old. When a young girl is asked for riner, her father must assent and the girl must consent.
2) KISO: the second marriage is /isus kiso/ is the “love marriage” For the love marriage, young men use all relevant information available to identify suitable girls who can be courted simultaneously by four or five boys for two to four years. The girl finally chooses her kiso spouse among them.
3) TIYIKIRAT: the third marriage is /isus tiyikirat/ is the “house marriage. The third marriage is with one of the rejected kiso suitors who is chosen by the girl’s mother.
Her parents may discuss this choice and select another young man who is said to “comes late”, provided that he comes from the right section where she is not already married.
Legitimacy of Children and Premarital Sexual Relations
Abisi’s idea of legitimate and illegitimate children rest upon their marriage systems which attribute to children their full birth rights.
All children born to a recognized husband, one who has given his share of bride wealth, are legitimate.
Abisi know that premarital sexual relations were a custom in Rukuba where young men and women could be lovers and have sexual encounters before marriage under certain condition. For Abisi, these are a sign of bad behavior.
An Abisi boy seen with Rukuba friends at the market can be suspected by other Abisi to be looking to engage in premarital sex and his reputation can be tainted enough to disqualify a boy to the eyes of an Abisi girl.
However, to legitimate her child before marriages, a young pregnant woman could elope with her lover and come back later to her parent’s house to follow her marriages duties with the riner husband. She had to stay with him for the minimum of one month, sometimes even only two weeks, before going back to her Kiso.
The legitimacy of children was mostly disputed at the time of a husband change if the woman was pregnant.
Usually, co-wives know about each other’s physical states and can say what they have observed to confirm or not a pregnancy.
In case this was not possible, Elders could use the hen arbitration which relies on chance but more often than not, it was the women who attributed the child to one of her husbands.
By permitting women, in the last resort, to attribute a father to their children, Abisi showed that they were less preoccupied with questions of legitimacy than of the right to control a child’s destiny.
In 1973, sharia rules were used in courts and applied to Abisi laws when they had to judge questions of legitimacy.
Marriage of Married Women
A woman married with these three husbands can also contract two other marriages.
4) KPE; the “grass marriage”or /isus kpe/
For this marriage, unlike the others, men cannot court her like any girls “we cannot visit her at her parents’ house” because she is already a married woman whereas for the first three marriages ,the girl still living at her parents’ house.
Courtship is undertaken in secret, literally “in the grass” where the suitor tries to entice a woman while she is doing a task in the bush like collecting wood.
5) PO∫I: the levirate or widow inheritance called /po∫i/ marriage
The fifth type of marriage is the transfer of marital rights of a dead brother’s wife to one of his siblings.
Husband and Wife Age Differences
For their first marriage, a girl was usually three to four years younger than the young man. She was about fifteen or sixteen years old and he was around nineteen to twenty years old.
In contrast, for the “love marriage”, a girl prefers a boy her age, so they can look at each other “eye to eye.”
Some boys may be older but, to be accepted, they should not have yet grown a beard, and this usually does not become apparent until they are over twenty years old.
For the third marriage a man “coming late”can be much older, up to twenty-eight years old.
Number of Spouses
To answer this question we did a survey in 1973 of the marital life of 75 women over 40 years old chosen in each section.
Women of this generation, born around 1930-1935, were all married to more than one man: 33% two husbands, 42% three husbands and 25% had four husbands.
No woman had more than four living husbands, and she usually acquired all of them before the age of thirty.
All men and women were betrothed for the Riner marriage. A few men, in another survey, about five per cent, had married two riner because one had died before the marriage was completed.
All men and women also had a Kiso love marriage and several men said they courted two kiso women at the same time.
That was only possible because, in 1973, the third marriage had been forbidden by the local administration but went on under the guise of a second “love marriage”.
However, half of the adult men claim that they had this home marriage even if it was officially forbidden.
Men are likely to get their second wife, after she has done her riner, at twenty-three to twenty-five years old. Men also got their third wife a short while later.
The wife stays with one or the other for the first two years of her married life and proceeds on to the third husband only if she wishes to do so.
She can stay at their place a minimum of a month and often for a full year and more.
Changing Husbands: Love Wins
Women can always go back and forth among their husbands .
In principle, a woman has to stay a year in turn with each of her first three husbands.
Afterward, since there is no divorce, a woman may want to return to one of her other husbands for a day, a week or a month as she needs.
A husband can try to persuade her parents and make various gifts to get her back but they can reply that they did everything possible but that their daughter does not want to return. From that moment the disappointed husband lets go.
From age forty onward, after various shifts of residence between husbands, the “love husband” comes to be definitely favored.
More than forty percent of all women reside with their love husbands at this stage in their lives.
Another thirty percent live with their “first” (riner marriage) husband and approximately twenty percent of the women are widows.
A very small proportion—only three per cent—live with their third husband (“home marriage”) and just one percent are living with a “grass husband .