tribes and types of cousin-marriage

over here i suggested that it’s not really correct to just talk about “tribes” since they probably have different characteristics depending upon the mating systems found within them. arab tribes, for instance, seem rather different in nature from indian (the ones in india) tribes. sure, they’re all inbreeding and so they’re rather hostile to outsiders, but arab tribes are more like afghani tribes than they are like indian (the ones in india) tribes.

most peoples, even the ones who practice some form of cousin marriage, feel that father’s brother’s daughter’s marriage (fbd marriage, or patrilateral parallel cousin marriage) is incestuous. this is despite the fact that the family members in an fbd marriage actually seem to share the least amount of genes (alleles) in common compared to all the other forms of cousin marriage (edit: that is, compared to the maternal forms of cousin marriage). so why the almost global opposition to fbd marriage?

greying wanderer linked to a site here which explain how mother’s brother’s daughter marriage (mbd marriage, or matrilateral cross-cousin marriage) enables a broad range of alliances between different lineages, or even clans, because each generation marries “out” of its lineage.

i always need a picture painted for me, so here we go. here’s what a couple of generations of fbd marriage looks like:

and here’s a couple of generations of mbd marriage:

see how in mbd marriage, women are always being brought into a patrilineage from another lineage. in fbd marriage, the whole system sort-of doubles back on iself every other generation. fbd marriage is a pretty closed system, whereas mbd marriage enables alliances with other groups.

mbd marriage was, apparently, the common or preferred form of cousin marriage in china back in the day. if wikipedia is to be believed, cousin marriage has not been so prevelant in china — or, at least, not so encouraged — for the last half century or so. cousin marriage is actually now illegal according to china’s 1981 marriage law. (have tptb in china been reading thomas acquinas?)

i think different tribes are different partly because of the mating patterns found in whatever given societies you’re looking at. that’s my theory and i’m sticking to it! (for now.)

previously: genealogical terminology and what is a tribe? and mother’s brother’s daughter marriage and father’s brother’s daughter marriage

update 07/15: see also tribes and types of cousin marriages ii

(note: comments do not require an email. an antarctic tribe.)

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9 Comments

  1. cousin marriage used to enjoy certain level of popularity in the old days, mostly among lower class farmers and city dwellers. Traditional Chinese marriage is pretty much arranged by the parents, especially among upper elites. Those people take marriage as a powerful tool to unite other powerful clans and gain prominence. But of course, there’s something else in Chinese marriage that are not common else where. The combination of a couple must go through Ba Gua check (similar to Feng Shui check to locations etc.) to see if they are fit to each other by nature and whether they would have a long happy life with many children together etc.

    But nowadays especially after Cultural Revolution, modern Chinese marriage has really nothing to do with all of these. Cousin marriage has been largely discouraged by the government and it is almost gone in cities and rich rural regions. I do believe in some inland remote rural places it still exists but that is almost negligible taking China as a whole into account.

    By the way, “since they probably have different characteristics depending upon the mating systems found within them. arab tribes, for instance, seem rather different in nature from indian (the ones in india) tribes”

    That reminds me of Polynesian tribes in places like Hawaii and Tahiti, I doubt they would suffer from inbreeding that much, but rather from “outbreeding” lol

    Reply

  2. Have you looked for differences in cousin marriage systems between nomadic herding tribes and settled farming tribes? It seems to me they’d show really different patterns, but maybe I’m wrong.

    A nomadic (full time) herding tribe’s constant mobility, moment-to-moment anticipation of new dangers, could make it more similar in mentality to a hunt-gath group than to a settled farming group. Also, I think it’s constrained to remain smaller than a settled group (which can get huge).

    And the very nature of the wealth they pass down is so diff. in a herder group than a farming one. A couple of sheep given to a child are mobile, they can go off anywhere. A plot of land and a house are stuck right where they are.

    Also, a couple of sheep can multiply themselves in a way a plot of land can’t. That plot’ll give more or less the same amount of food every year (absent a big technological leap). But a pair of sheep can, in a bit of time, produce a whooooole lot more sheep (thus a lot more food).

    These things make me think that marriage patterns (which as you say often come from inheritance concerns) could differ a lot between the two groups. But I have no facts to back it up.

    Reply

  3. @m.g. – “Have you looked for differences in cousin marriage systems between nomadic herding tribes and settled farming tribes? It seems to me they’d show really different patterns, but maybe I’m wrong.”

    i haven’t really, no — but anthropologists who actually study these things (i’m not an anthropologist, i just play one on the internet!), like russian anthropologist korotayev, suggest that fbd marriage correlates with nomadic herding tribes. another russian anthropologist (rodionov) suggests that fbd marriage originated in the levantine area amongst goat herders and spread out from there, esp. down through the arab peninsula, quite possibly brought there by jews.

    fbd marriage doesn’t occur in any other part of the world except amongst the arabs and some groups that they conquered back in the medieval period. so, while there are some settled farmers who practice fbd marriage (like in afghanistan and pakistan), they seem to have picked it up from the arabs who had been herders in what korotayev refers to as an arabization process.

    but, no, you don’t see fbd marriage popping up organically amongst settled farming tribes. then it’s typically mbd marriage, if there is any cousin marriage at all, that is.

    Reply

  4. @the slitty eye – “Cousin marriage has been largely discouraged by the government and it is almost gone in cities and rich rural regions. I do believe in some inland remote rural places it still exists but that is almost negligible taking China as a whole into account.”

    yes, i think that sounds pretty right. looking away from special groups like hill-tribes and muslims groups, cousin marriage amongst the han in china already had very low rates (around 1%) in places like beijing and shanghai by the 1950s and 1960s — rates comparable to those in the u.s. and europe. but even into the 1980s and 1990s, the rates are higher in rural areas in western regions like sichuan — there the rates creep up to 4 and 5 and 6%.

    they don’t ever hit double-digits, though, like in the arab world (unless you look at muslim groups in china or some of the hill-tribes, i.e. non-han peoples).

    Reply

  5. I am sure there are lots of inbreeding going on among the Muslims.

    Usually I think it’s even not allowed for registration if the couple are cousins.

    The good thing is eugenic is heavily promoted by the communist government in China, but apparently left out those hilly-billy tribesmen, never care about that since Han make up 91% of the population in China

    Reply

  6. @the slitty eye – “The good thing is eugenic is heavily promoted by the communist government in China, but apparently left out those hilly-billy tribesmen….”

    official policy by tptb in china then, eh? make sure that the majority does not inbreed, but who cares if the minorities do. not too dumb! (~_^)

    shouldn’t outbreed too much, though, because then i think you run into other problems (see point #3). don’t want to loosen those genetic ties too much.

    Reply

  7. In order for systems of cousin marriage (or’ any particular person’ marriage) to operate over many generations, the marriages must nearly all be arranged/ coerced.

    (But then, most/ all major life decisions in traditional societies are arranged/ coerced – so marriage would not stand out.)

    Furthermore, there would have to be a pretty broad tolerance of age gaps between spouses, for example – and child marriage/ espousal would maybe need to be tolerated.

    Furthermore, polygamy (or polygyny) may need to be tolerated – at least sometimes – when the supply of suitable men did not match the supply of women – or at least it would make things easier and neater.

    In other words, the more constraints the marriage system introduces in one domain, the more leeway is required in other domains. When the system leads to a very specific, person to person matching – then there must be wide tolerance concerning the other aspects of that match.

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  8. @bruce – yes, and we do see all those things — arranged marriages, age gaps between spouses, polygamy — in societies where there is cousin marriage. that’s exactly how they tend to work.

    one note about the age gap, tho — in societies where there are large families, there doesn’t always have to be that big of an age gap. take my family as an example (we come from a society that traditionally had some ridiculously large families) — not my generation, but my mother’s. my mother’s eldest brother was only a couple of years younger than his mother’s youngest sister (i.e. his maternal aunt). they played together as kids and really grew up as members of the same cohort. reverse the genders, and such an uncle-niece marriage wouldn’t be so “off” in terms of age.

    Reply

  9. missed this somehow

    “i think different tribes are different partly because of the mating patterns found in whatever given societies you’re looking at. that’s my theory and i’m sticking to it! (for now.)”

    I think you’re right.

    Reply

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