Marriage, Polygamy & Divorce

Marriage, polygamy & divorce There are strict rules that Orang Rimba have to adhere to when including or excluding someone into the lineage which is highly dependent on whether a person is Orang Rimba. The tribe forbids anything but shallow encounters with outsiders and disallows the option of marriage. Within the Orang Rimba kindred of relations, which is usually limited to nearby rivers, cousin marriages bridge cognates at risk of becoming non-cognates back into a kinship connection, and builds rapport between people of the same generation level, within the restrictions of very asymmetrical relations of affinity.

Within the Orang Rimba kinship system, first cousin marriages (kebonoron ‘the truth’) are preferred as they are relatable, close-by, and is likely able to establish rapport with neighbouring camps.

The males prefer parallel cousin marriages so as to keep all parties within their camp and customary forest, but they rarely occur as it is likely to reduce the stringent demands made by in-laws during bride service and throughout a marriage.

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Cross-cousin marriages are much more common and favoured, as they can serve to improve relations with mother’s adult brother. It is extremely rare for a marriage to occur with no kin relations tied-up, as most of them live nearby, so that the male can maintain some kind of relations with his mother and sisters. If the marriage between two parties are accepted, the male moves to the female’s residence to perform a period of bride service (berinduk semang), which is metaphorically referred to as becoming ‘a parasitic plant on mother’s family’.

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During this term, the suitor is obliged to perform ‘free work’ (budi beso) for the maiden’s parents and extended family and not expect anything in return. According to traditional custom, a couple is legally considered married after the completion of bride service, which is said to formally last around seven or eight years. If the bride service is successfully completed, the bachelor will not be obligated to pay bridewealth. While most bachelors will perform lengthy periods of bride service, these days, few ever get around to successfully completing it according to their in-laws standard. In these cases, they always combine their labour work in the fields with bridewealth paid in sheets of cloth. In the event when the relationship hits the breaking point due to the failure of either party to fulfil their obligations in a marriage, a divorce hearing can be held before the community to judge who is at fault and who is responsible to pay the cloth fine.

After the hearing, they perform a small ceremony referred to as ‘cutting the rattan’ (bototoruwoton), where the headman goes through a formal series of customary couplets, after which the couple hold the two ends of a piece of rattan which is cut into half, symbolically severing their ties. Whether or not the husband wins the case, he usually returns to his natal camp in shame. The Orang Rimba restricts all marriages with outsides, and while a man may sometimes leave the forest and marry a village, there wasn’t any known instances of this occurring with the women. In the rare case of intermarriage, if the person is entering Islam, and thus becoming Malay, the person is banished from the Orang Rimba community. While they may visit their family in the forests, they are prohibited from spending the night in the camp or attend any religious event or ritual. The transition to becoming Malay is rarely a permanent one.  Discussion Orang Rimba kinship and social structure demonstrate their relation to Malay and Austronesian-speaking people through the regions.

However, the concepts of kin relation is distinct from forest to forest which is arranged to meet the requirements of their unique lifestyles in the camps. Some of the differences can be observed through their social relations, for example, brother-sister relations and how it links to their small camps, dispersed residence patterns and female dominant society. The importance of the brother-sister relationship is metaphorically expressed by the stalk and flower respectively. Dispersed residence patterns and in-marrying males’ obligations to provide for their in laws often strains this relationship.  The authority/seniority attributed to the brother/sister and mother’s brother/sister’s children relationships, even though they have greatly declined, may suggest distant ties as compared to more settled Malay-speaking people, possibly in a context where mother’s brother was able to easily keep in touch with natal kin.

The stringent demands made towards husbands during bride service, and more generally residence in wife’s camp, is expressed through the botanic expression of being a ‘parasitic plant on the mother,’ which is quite literally how in-laws perceive the subordinate position of in-marrying males. Divorce is expressed through botanic analogy as ‘cutting the rattan,’ which not only severs a man’s ties to his wife, children and his wife’s kin, but to some extent takes away his full status of adulthood. The male is forced to return to his natal forest in shame, where he is again dependent on his mother and sister’s bundles of cloth to arrange a future marriage. Conclusion A simple analysis of Orang Rimba kinship, marriage and gender relations in Jambi, Sumatra has shown Orang Rimba primary kinship relations expressed by botanic metaphor and key structural contrasts demonstrate their ties to Malay and Austronesian-speaking peoples throughout the region.

Kinship term alone cannot tell us much about real-life kinship patterns, we have to understand the term in terms of cultural and social context with reference to the particular tribe. The connotation of a kinship term is able to express rights and dominance which cannot be inferred from the term itself. In the case of Orang Rimba, an asymmetrical relations of affinity is observed as the in married husband, supposedly crowned as the head of the new family, instead has to give in to the demands of his wife and in-laws. This results in a set of social relationships not unlike many of the bride service societies throughout the world. Orang Rimba women have great rights over forest resources, yet are restrained in their interactions with men and outsiders by rigid gender relations.

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Marriage, Polygamy & Divorce. (2022, Jan 02). Retrieved from

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