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The Meaning of Dowry: Changing Values in Rural Greece Juliet du Boulay Much of the work on dowry in Greece to the present date has been focused on its function as a means of transferring property from the family of the bride to that of the new couple, thus categorizing it as an aspect of inheritance.1 This paper concentrates on a different aspect of dowry—that is, dowry as an expression of attitudes toward women. Dowry does not, of course, offer a comprehensive picture of these attitudes; thus, although one set of attitudes discussed in this paper comprises a general view of women throughout their lives, the embodiment of these attitudes in the institution of dowry reveals a perspective on women at marriage which is not necessarily shown in the way in which men consciously think of them or treat them in the day-to-day running of the house. However, the perspective offered by the symbolism of the dowry, occurring as it does at a critical moment in the life of a woman, and uniting as it does her place in her family of origin with her place in her family of procreation, provides what is probably the most general level of understanding about women which is present in the culture. The form of dowry has changed considerably in recent years, however, and the attitudes to women revealed by the dowry have changed with it. This paper is concerned with dowry both past and present in the small mountain village of Ambéli in North Euboea. In this area the forms of the dowry belong, broadly speaking, to two distinct periods: the earlier time, when a traditional way of life and thought continued to mold the lives of all the villagers, and the later period when a distinct watershed had been reached and passed, and beyond which there is noticeable a continuing and ever-increasing decline in these traditional values. 1950—55 is the turning point between these two periods, for 1950 marks the end of the civil war and 1A useful recent review of this literature is given in: P. Allen, "Internal Migration and the Changing Dowry in Modern Greece," Indiana Social Studies Quarterly, 32( 1979): 14256 . 243 244 Juliet du Boulay the return of the mountain villagers to their own homes after a year of enforced residence in the local market town while the last of the communist guerillas were being defeated. Thus, this study of dowry must be taken in two parts, one referring to the situation before 1950 and the other to the period after it.2 The first part of my analysis concentrates on the relationships which used to be involved between the dowry and the birth of baby girls, which were both seen as cause for lamentation. I hope to demonstrate that, in spite of appearances, these relationships were, paradoxically , closely related to a system of values which at marriage reversed the evaluation put on a female child at birth and recognized her as a key figure in the family to which she had come as a bride. The second part shows, too, that in contrast with these traditional values expressed at marriage, the way in which dowry has been changing since the 1960s seems to indicate an evaluation of women on marriage which is very different. Some evidence of very recent years seems to offer the possibility of further change, but it is too early at this stage to predict which direction this change will ultimately take. L THE FAMILY OF ORIGIN IN THE OLD PATTERN a) The undesirability of girls. There is a tale told in the village of a particular woman many years ago who, when she gave birth to a series of girls, wept and screamed at each one, "Ochoo, Ochoo, another girl!"—as a result of which they all died. A daughter-in-law of hers, however, benefited from this example, and when she gave birth to four girls said, at each one, remembering her mother-in-law, "I am happy with girls." More recently , in 1964, when a village woman, having had one son, bore a fourth daughter, her husband upbraided her so much that she...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 243-270
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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