So, I’ve recently been working on answering the “Ethnographical Questionnaire” set of worldbuilding questions for my conculture – not quite this version, but another version by the same person, I think – in the interest of, by so doing, expanding on all sorts of areas and possible unconsidered lacunae in my current imaginings. I thought I’d share each section with y’all as I got it done.
III. Questions of Race and Ethnicity
XII. Questions of Sex
How many spouses may a man or woman have?
As many as they can persuade to contract with them; there’s no particular legal or social limit. One is the social default/assumption for the eldrae, but those species and individuals both who prefer polyadic relationships are on safe and comfortable ground. (Oh, and it’s not transitive; if A is married to B and B is also married to C, A is not married to C – unless the contract says otherwise, of course. Make up your own topology – star, line, ring, helix…)
Who decides on a marriage?
The involved parties, and only the involved parties. Matchmakers may matchmake, it is true, and friends and family may drop broad hints and arrange introductions, but family, parents, society, gods, and everyone else need not think they get to decide anything, here. Anyone who even thought about inventing the arranged marriage, the shotgun wedding, or other means of forcing someone into such an arrangement would run straight into the culture’s attitudes on Coercion, Evils Of, followed by Slavers, The Righteousness Of The Shooting Of, in the worst possible ways. Shudder.
Can a marriage end in divorce? How?
Well, it’s not called divorce, but a marriage can end in three ways:
1. If it’s written into the contract that defines the marriage. This includes options to terminate at-will (mutual or individual), automatic termination after a fixed term with option to renew, etc., etc.
2. If both parties mutually agree to terminate the contract, even if such an option didn’t exist beforehand.
3. If one party defaults on the contract. What exactly this includes mostly depends on what’s written into it in the first place (adultery, for example, counts as default if the contract includes promises of sexual/emotional exclusivity; financial misfeasance may well; domestic violence [see below] always does; and so on.)
Who usually takes custody of children if a marriage ends for some reason?
What happens to orphans?
In either case, it’s down to the contract, if the parents saw fit to make arrangements (and, in the event of default, bearing in mind that under any normal arrangement a defaulter on the marriage contract has defaulted on his children, too). If not, the genarchs of the families (since – see below – children are not necessarily counted in the same lineage) find, bearing in mind this and keeping siblings together and so forth get to discuss matters and find the best place to put them in the families. Failing such a voluntary arrangement, it will ultimately go to the courts to find the optimal place – but the courts get very ironic if they have to intervene in this sort of thing that people should be able to sort out amicably without making them take it to court.
Doubly so if they have to make these arrangements for young children after a voluntary termination of contract, because parents have contractual responsibilities to their children, and they really do not like people who play silly buggers with those.
How are families named?
Family names generally take the form “House-ith-Lineage”, which can reasonably be interpreted as “clan; family within that clan”. Where the House and lineage name are the same (meaning the senior family of the House), they can be elided into just “House”. Family names are neither matrilineal nor patrilineal. Rather, children take the family name of their opposite-sex parent and are counted part of that family; i.e., siblings of different sexes would be considered members of different families.
How are boy and girl children treated differently?
By and large, they aren’t, except in re biologically or morphologically implied necessities. See also under VIII, Questions of Labor (when I post it), in which I point out the lack of a distinction between “men’s work” and “women’s work” among sane and reasonable people; well, the universe isn’t kind enough to always guarantee that someone of the appropriately arbitrary sex is there when a job needs doing, so everybody gets to learn to cook and run a forge and make clothes and earn a living and sew embroidery and wrangle balky machinery back into operation and make beer and do science and raise children and shoot and fight if necessary (for “those without swords can still die upon them”) and and and and and…
People are people, and need to learn all the skills needed by people. The universe also isn’t kind enough to give us the luxury of wasting the potential potential of large chunks of the population by declaring things Not Their Business. And even if it did, doing so would be pure idiocy.
What, if anything, is considered a good marriage gift?
The traditional marriage gifts (from the families) are a forge and a fruit tree, in honor of the twin aspects of Medáríäh, eikone of fertility and mass production; in traditional and old families, an exchange with each other (the families) of statuettes of the principals for the family shrines; and weapons for the defense of the new household. (Only the most formal of the war-temples require the happy couple to use them immediately.) Those marrying don’t exchange gifts, because they’re giving themselves each other.
Gifts for the newly married from friends and relatives vary widely; they’re usually not household goods, because people tend to marry at a late enough age that they already have everything they need, if not twice as much. Extra points go to close friends who can slip some sly ribaldry in without letting everyone know they’re doing it.
What inanimate or sexless things are considered male or female?
Sufficiently complex machinery – essentially, anything complex enough in behavior, principally meaning vehicles, heavy machinery, computers, assorted autonomous machinery, cities, etc. – is often anthropomorphized sufficiently to be given a name, and having been given the name, is assigned the appropriate gender in speech despite this being a technical solecism. (For ships, the tradition is that the ship takes the opposite gender to his/her first captain, and most other such namings follow this pattern.)
Does this society connect the ideas of marriage with love?
Absolutely. They’re a hopelessly romantic lot, and as such have a hard time imagining why else you might want to marry, really, given how many simpler ways there are to arrange most of those other things.
(But, as I said before, where it differs substantially from most of our cultures’ fluffy romantic notions, is that it also emphasizes that marriage and love are also extremely hard work, and that there are no Magic Relationship Fairies who will make it work out for you, or more importantly, keep it working out for you as the years, and decades, and centuries, and millennia roll by. Rather, it makes it very clear that you, newly-minted spouse, have just acquired a whole new obligation and career in making it work, and unilateral quitting is not an option for a gentlesoph, etc. It also, in fairness, tries its best to provide you with the tools to do the job, ranging from those which would be relatively familiar to us, to such uniquely-to-long-lived-species notions as taking ten or twenty years to go off and do your own thing, the theory being that at the end of that, you’ll both have a lot more to talk about, plus the chance to remember all the things that made you fall in love and want to marry in the first place…)
How big are families, typically?
Individual families usually contain, say, the parents and three to four children, but given the eldrae lifespan, those children can be spread out over hundreds if not thousands of years; except for twins, it is extraordinarily rare for your siblings to be within a century of you in age. That being said, all of these are part of sprawling extended families (the Houses) and almost always interact with their myriad cousins and other relatives.
What constitutes a household? How many people live in one household? How many generations?
Households vary widely in size and structure. The largest tend to be the home estates of the Houses, which can house hundreds of people over a dozen generations under one (admittedly very large) roof. Sizes then vary down through the cluster-house (a half-dozen or so houses and private gardens around the inside of a circular wall, sharing common space in the middle), usually shared between an extended farm household or several generational/related/friendly nuclear families in an urban setting, to the single house or apartment-house occupied by a single couple or even single individual; the latter becoming more common in the modern era now the cluster-house’s advantages in defensibility and shared infrastructure are no longer so significant.
Are girls or boys preferred and why?
Neither, except for occasional idiosyncratic personal preferences. Reasons being much the same as given above concerning them being treated differently.
How common is domestic violence? Is it understood to be a problem, or a normal aspect of family life? If it is seen as problematic, what is being done about it?
Rare, very rare. You see, eldrae by nature are very, very self-willed types who are thus disinclined to acquiesce to external self-valuations, and long before you can reduce one to the psychological state in which they’ll accept the way you’re treating them, you’ll pass through the psychological state in which they’ll reach out and gut you like a sturgeon, you lousy Defaulter bastard. (Or someone else offended by your behavior will, which amounts to pretty much the same thing in the end.)
This ‘solution’ to the problem pleases everybody, and so nothing further seems necessary to do in those cases. (Although there are legal mechanisms to take care of the rest, usually with a similar conclusion.)
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