Traditional Kinship Patterns
Pakistani social life revolves around family and kin. Even among
members of the most Westernized elite, family retains its overarching
significance. The family is the basis of social organization,
providing its members with both identity and protection. Rarely
does an individual live apart from relatives; even male urban
migrants usually live with relatives or friends of kin. Children
live with their parents until marriage, and sons often stay with
their parents after marriage, forming a joint family.
The household is the primary kinship unit. In its ideal, or extended,
form, it includes a married couple, their sons, their sons' wives
and children, and unmarried offspring. Sons establish separate
households upon their father's death. Whether or not an extended
household endures depends on the preferences of the individuals
involved. Quarrels and divisiveness, particularly among the women
(mother-in-law and daughters-in-law), can lead to the premature
dissolution of a joint household.
Descent is reckoned patrilineally, so only those related through
male ancestors are considered relatives. The biradari,
or group of male kin (the patrilineage), plays a significant role
in social relations. Its members neither hold movable property
in common nor share earnings, but the honor or shame of individual
members affects the general standing of the biradari
within the community. A common proverb expresses this view: "One
does not share the bread, but one shares the shame."
In theory, members of a biradari are coresidents of
a single village. In some areas, however, land fragmentation and
generations of out-migration have led to the dispersal of many
members of the biradari among various villages, regions,
and cities. Patrilineal kin continue to maintain ties with their
natal village and enjoy the legal right of first refusal in any
biradari land sale.
Members of a biradari celebrate the major life events
together. Patrilineal kin are expected to contribute food and
to help with guests in the ceremonies accompanying birth, marriage,
death, and major religious holidays. The biradari has
traditionally served as a combined mutual aid society and welfare
agency, arranging loans to members, assisting in finding employment,
and contributing to the dowries of poorer families.
There is considerable pressure for patrilineal kin to maintain
good relations with one another. Biradari members who
quarrel will try to resolve their differences before major social
occasions so that the patrilineage can present a united front
to the village. People with sons and daughters of marriageable
age keenly feel the necessity to maintain good relations because
a person whose family is at odds with his or her biradari
is considered a poor marriage prospect.
Although descent is reckoned patrilineally, women maintain relations
with their natal families throughout life. The degree of involvement
with maternal kin varies among ethnic groups and among regions
of the country. The tie between brother and sister is typically
strong and affectionate; a woman looks to her brothers for support
in case of divorce or widowhood early in her marriage. In those
regions where families maintain considerable contact with maternal
kin, children, even though they are members of their father's
patrilineage, are indulged by their mother s kin. Just as a family's
relations with its biradari are considered in evaluating
a potential spouse, so in these regions may the mother's kin be
Marriage is a means of allying two extended families; romantic
attachments have little role to play. The husband and wife are
primarily representatives of their respective families in a contractual
arrangement, which is typically negotiated between two male heads
of household. It is fundamentally the parents' responsibility
to arrange marriages for their children, but older siblings may
be actively involved if the parents die early or if they have
been particularly successful in business or politics. The terms
are worked out in detail and are noted, by law, at the local marriage
Marriage is a process of acquiring new relatives or reinforcing
the ties one has with others. To participate fully in society,
a person must be married and have children, preferably sons, because
social ties are defined by giving away daughters in marriage and
receiving daughters-in-law. Marriage with one's father's brother's
child is preferred, in part because property exchanged at marriage
then stays within the patrilineage. The relationship between in-laws
extends beyond the couple and well past the marriage event. Families
related by marriage exchange gifts on important occasions in each
others lives. If a marriage is successful, it will be followed
by others between the two families. The links thus formed persist
and are reinforced through the generations. The pattern of continued
intermarriage coupled with the occasional marriage of nonrelatives
creates a convoluted web of interlocking ties of descent and marriage.
A woman's life is difficult during the early years of marriage.
A young bride has very little status in her husband s household;
she is subservient to her mother-in-law and must negotiate relations
with her sisters-in-law. Her situation is made easier if she has
married a cousin and her mother-in-law is also her aunt. The proper
performance of all the elaborate marriage ceremonies and the accompanying
exchange of gifts also serve to enhance the new bride's status.
Likewise, a rich dowry serves as a trousseau; the household goods,
clothing, jewelry, and furniture included remain the property
of the bride after she has married.
Marriage also involves a dower, called haq mehr (see
Glossary), established under Islamic law, the sharia (see Glossary).
Although some families set a symbolic haq mehr of Rs32
(for value of the rupee--see Glossary) in accordance with the
traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, others may demand hundreds
of thousands of rupees.
A wife gains status and power as she bears sons. Sons will bring
wives for her to supervise and provide for her in her old age.
Daughters are a liability, to be given away in an expensive marriage
with their virginity intact. Therefore, mothers favor their sons.
In later life, the relationship between a mother and her son remains
intimate, in all likelihood with the mother retaining far more
influence over her son than his wife has.
Data as of April 1994