In my last post on marriage alliance, I wrote about how it works in theory - how different rules governing who you can and can't marry will affect the relationships between the inter-marrying groups, how wife-givers typically have a superior position to wife-takers, how MBD-FZS marriage ideally creates long-lasting asymmetric relationships between wife-givers and wife-takers, and how the asymmetrical nature of these relationships necessitates bonds between three or more groups at a time. That's the ideal of asymmetric marriage alliance/MBD-FZS marriage/matrilateral cross-cousin marriage/circulating connubium (all names for the same thing), and it doesn't only apply in eastern Indonesia, the area I'm particularly interested in. These are the basic features of MBD-FZS marriage.
So how does it manifest in eastern Indonesia? Why do they have this particular arrangement? What else is it linked to?
The first thing to note is that marriage alliance is not an isolated phenomenon in eastern Indonesia. Actually, ethnographers have long held that marriage in Nusa Tenggara and Maluku is part of what Marcel Mauss called a total social fact: a practice or idea that combines aspects of everything the people do and think from the aesthetic to the religious and the reproductive to the martial. When you get married in much of eastern Indonesia, you are enacting a cosmological principle as much as you are bonding two groups in social ties. So before we get onto the actualities of marriage, we really need to look at the essential symbolism of eastern Indonesian societies because that is the key to unlocking the total social fact.
To be clear, I'm not basing this account on any particular society, and some of it will be inapplicable in certain parts of Maluku and Nusa Tenggara Timur. This is broad brush strokes.
There has been a lot of argument about cosmological beliefs and symbolism in eastern Indonesia among structuralist scholars. The reasons for this ought to become obvious in a moment if you know anything about structuralism, but I'm not all that interested in going over the structuralists' debate because I'm not really a structuralist. If you're interested in the debate, it is nicely summed up in Robert Parkin's book on Louis Dumont.
On the other hand, we do need a structural description. So I'll say that symbolism in eastern Indonesia is very often put into a dualistic framework, with - for example - 'male' consistently opposed to 'female'. It's dualistic but complementary, such that 'male' needs 'female' and vice versa; they are not opposed or antagonistic. Out of the fusion of the two complementary elements comes creation, fertility, strength, and other good things. Moreover, it is not only complementary, but the complementarity is often (but not always) recursive: inside the 'male' principle is a little of the 'female' principle, and inside the 'female' principle is a little of the male, and inside that bit of the male is a little bit more female, and so on, ad infinitum.
There is a correspondence between different realms of symbolism, too, such that 'female' is related to the left hand, the moon, passivity, stillness, coolness, and other features, while 'male' is related to the sun, activity, movement, anger, and heat. We can therefore speak of a male principle and a female principle as representing a wider set of contrasts of cosmological significance, and, depending on context, the idea of 'left hand' can represent the entire left-hand/female/moon, &c side of the equation (and vice versa). In many - perhaps most - contexts, the 'male' side is considered superior, but in others the 'female' side is considered superior. It may not surprise you that women in eastern Indonesia typically have a high status, and even have a controlling share in the domestic economy in many areas - only they can open the family's rice granary, for instance. It is the situations in which the relative position of each party is reversed that have caused most of the ruckus in structuralist circles.
So what we've got is a recursive complementary relationship between two sets of cosmological principles. That's the core of the symbolism found in ritual, architecture, and much else, and it's the key to understanding how eastern Indonesian people think of marriage in the round. In the next post, I'll explain how this works in specific situations - not just in marriage but in other spheres. See if you can work out, before I explain it, how this kind of recursive complementary dualism fits particularly well with MBD-FZS marriage alliance.