The plantation system had an effect on the family life of East Indians as well as on that of Africans. In rural India, the basic social unit was the large extended family. Caste position was the first criterion in choosing an appropriate mate. In the plantation housing of British Guiana, it was not possible to maintain extended households even if the kin were available. Considerations of caste became less important in choosing a spouse largely because there were so few women among the East Indian indentured workers.
A wedding is not only an ideal to the Indo-Guyanese; it is the usual rite of passage to adulthood. An elaborate wedding is a necessary affirmation of the social prestige of a Hindu family, as well as a major ritual in the life cycle. Muslim weddings are less elaborate, but also confer prestige on the families involved. Parents usually play a role in selecting the first mate. Religion and sect are important in choosing a marriage partner; caste notions may be as well. However, first marriages are not necessarily expected to endure.
An increasing number of East Indian marriages are regarded as legal, especially since Hindu and Muslim clergy have legal authority to perform wedding ceremonies. No social stigma is attached to civil wedding ceremonies, common-law unions, or conjugal unions between couples who remain legally married to others but have ended their past relationships by mutual consent.
The Indo-Guyanese family tends to be organized through male lines. Extended-family members do not necessarily share the same household, but they often live near each other and may engage in economic activities together. A young couple typically lives with the husband's family for several years, eventually establishing their own cooking facilities and later their own home. In contrast to Afro-Guyanese practice, three-generation households with males at the head are not uncommon among the Indo-Guyanese. The role of the woman is typically more subordinate in Indo-Guyanese families than in Afro-Guyanese households.
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