Nepalese Culture

Family

For most Nepalis, the “family” refers to a wide network of extended relationships. Households are often overcrowded with many members from multiple generations. The relations are normally connected through the male side (patrilineal). Traditionally, the living pattern is patrilocal with women moving into their husband’s place of residence at marriage. This means couples generally expect daughter(s)-in-law to join the household.


Adults often continue to live in the same household as their parents to start families. There is usually limited privacy in these multigenerational houses. However, as the country modernises, a greater diversity of living patterns are emerging. Some people may live in households that allocate a level to every generation (i.e. parents on one floor with their children and grandchildren living on the level below them). This provides a greater degree of independence for adult children. Other Nepalis who have a stable income may choose to live as a couple alone whilst continuing to support their parents financially. Nevertheless, while the nuclear family has started gaining preference in urban areas, the multigenerational household is still most common.


As unemployment in Nepal is a chronic issue, often a household’s main stable source of income is provided by remittances sent by family members who are working in foreign countries. Commonly, this responsibility (as well as the duty to care for elderly parents) falls on the eldest son. Respect for age is a longstanding tradition and value in Nepalese society. Children are expected to defer to and obey their parents and older siblings. Some Nepalese believe that as increased independence becomes more accessible, the reverence of elders is decreasing.


Most families in Nepal are strongly patriarchal; however, there are some matriarchal structures in communities. Many Nepali mothers also have quite a commanding status, especially over their children and daughter-in-law, and there are an increasing number of female-headed households. In rural areas, the patriarch may head the whole extended family. He is known to family servants as the ‘Malik’ (manager). In this position of authority, the head male is responsible for the entire family and the behaviour of those in it. Should a family member disobey the rules of a village, the elders will approach the Malik to redress the issue.


Gender Roles

There is a traditional idolisation of female purity and power in Nepal. Women are often religiously depicted as strong goddesses, with emphasis on their virtue (cleanliness and virginity). However, while many women are respected for their power and prestige, their domestic role remains predominantly traditional throughout most of the country. Females are often perceived as the caregivers of society, and are commonly dependent on their husband and/or father’s provisional income. In homes where both the husband and wife work, the assets are usually still in the man’s name. Thus, among undereducated and impoverished social demographics, women can find themselves quickly destitute if separated by circumstances outside of their control (i.e. widowed or divorced).


While both genders are equally represented under the constitution and many women work, they often have limited opportunities for managerial positions and a lower wage. A woman’s domestic duties in the household can also affect her ability to work overtime. In general, Newari and Tibetan women are commonly more active in the public and business sphere. Hindu women are generally more restricted to the domestic sphere and are less active in the workforce.


Nevertheless, Nepal has made quick advances in acknowledging the many obstacles women face, and general improvement is visible across the country. Women in urban areas are increasingly joining the paid workforce, while women in rural areas are engaging in subsistence farming and labour. There also appears to be a commitment on behalf of the government at many levels to increasing equality and uplifting women and girls. Indeed, many people have suggested that Nepalese culture demonstrates respect for women through its celebration of (for example) International Women’s Day. More women are also gaining power through political positions, such as the President, Speaker of Parliament and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.


Relationships and Marriage

Courtship in Nepal often lasts several years. It can take a long time for a couple to solidify the engagement and for families to agree and give their blessing. Both arranged marriages and ‘love’ marriages are common. Traditionally, a potential groom and his parents will come and visit a girl’s home and discuss possible arrangements with her parents. Marriage ceremonies are generally very lavish, lasting many days with hundreds of guests.


The formal and informal rules regarding marriage in Nepal vary significantly between regions, ethnic groups and castes. For example, the Gurung consider cross-cousin marriage to be permissible while many Brahmin consider it to be prohibited in Hinduism. People commonly look within their socio-economic group, caste or ethnicity to choose prospective partners.


Divorce is considered to be the last resort and is usually avoided. It is more common for a couple to separate permanently whilst remaining legally married. A man can no longer divorce his wife on grounds of her inability to bear a child, but other discriminatory reasons for divorce are still permitted.

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