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Violence in a marriage: the punishment of the small pig


An entry in the Rivers Prize for
Writing on Peace & Harmony

A means of traditional reconciliation in the Telei language group of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville

MARRIAGE is a sacred institution even in today’s more liberal society. But it was much more sacred in traditional Melanesian culture.

When a young man was of marriageable age, his father would search for a suitable partner, usually from his nieces, daughters of the father’s sisters or cousins’ sisters.

This would be done without the son’s knowledge or acquiescence. Even the girl was not consulted as to choice of marriage partner.

All the arrangements were conducted without their approval or agreement.

It was the elders who made assessment of character, suitability and compatibility. Even their wealth was determined by the chiefs.

In the Telei culture, the males inherit land, wealth and position from their fathers. Thus, the marriage had to be agreeable to the male partner. The female was not so important. She became important through the wealth, power and prowess of her husband.

The bride price paid for the female was usually shared amongst the girl’s relatives. The amount of money, whether currency or shell money, determined the value of the female.

The female’s brothers had the important role of ensuring that their sister lived in happy circumstance in her marriage.

After the bride price ceremony, the bride leaves her home to live in her husband’s home. She now becomes a member of her husband’s clan and, of course, the children she bears are of the father’s clan.

If a woman experienced violence at the hands of her spouse, she would flee back to her own family. Swearing in Telei culture was seen as a serious crime, especially when a male coupled his wife’s name with her brothers. That was the worst misdeed any husband could commit in their eyes.

So once a wife fled to her family and reported abusive language and physical violence, the family would consider how best to teach the man a lesson. Not by violent means but through subtlety. That was the way of the Telei chiefs.

A common practice occurred when the family accompanied their female relative back to her estranged husband. They would be bearing a live pig and garden food items.

The husband might be expecting a medium to large sized pig, so the relatives of the fugitive female would hand him a very small pig.

When they arrived at the village, the brothers-in-law would set down the pig. When the violent husband saw it, his displeasure would be obvious.

In response the bearers of the pig would say that if there was further violence, they would bring another pig as small as a rabbit.

From then on, it was seen that such husbands learned to control their violent temper and abusive tongues.

The subtle belittling by the little pig went a long way to promote peace, love and harmony in traditional Telei culture.


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