balkan endogamy

nick says: “The Balkans had the 7th cousin law, that forbid them to marry anyone closer than the 7th cousin.”

i did a little googling on that and found what i think will probably prove to be a general pattern for balkan populations: a ban on marrying in the patriline, but marrying on the mother’s side is ok and even preferred. so the seventh-cousin law that nick is referring to relates only to paternal cousins.

this is just a preliminary look at the mating patterns in the balkans, btw. i need to do a lot more research on this.

anyway, this pattern of avoiding marriage in the patrline but preferring marriage to maternal relatives seems to hold for bosnian muslims, albanians, and macedonian slavs.

regarding the macedonian slavs: “The genealogical reckoning is primarily agnatic [i.e. through the male line – h. chick]. Kinship terminology distinguishes father’s brother (stric) from the mother’s brother (ujak), as well as using a special word to indicate sister’s or daughter’s husband (zet) and a woman married to a set of brothers (jetrva). On the agnatic side, marriage is forbidden up to the ninth generation, while the matrilineal first cousins could be regarded as possible mates if it was not for the canonical prohibition.

that’s the christian church’s ban on cousin marriage. but otherwise, marriage to matrilineal relatives is ok — and macedonian slavs would’ve approved of matrilineal first cousin marriage if it wasn’t for their church.

regarding the bosnian muslims, bringa reports (pg. 146) that “there is a preference for marrying agnatic affines.” agnatic refers to the paternal line — so your father and your paternal grandfather and all your paternal aunts and uncles, etc. affines are in-laws. so there is a preference amongst bosnian muslims to marry their in-laws connected to the father’s side of the family.

the most obvious members of that group would simply be one’s maternal relatives, i.e. your father’s in-laws (see?). but agnatic affines could also include, for instance, your paternal uncle’s wife’s relatives.

i know — it all gets kinda complicated. the important thing, though, is it’s all a sort of endogamous mating.

finally, the albanians. i’m going to reproduce a long-ish passage from State Collapse and Reconstruction in the Periphery: Political Economy, Ethnicity and Development in Yugoslavia, Serbia and Kosovo. just skip it if you’re bored already, but it talks about the clannishness or tribalness (the author’s words, not mine!) of the albanians and how their mating patterns have, at least traditionally, been endogamous, including marriage to maternal relatives (this is not strange, btw, since marriage to maternal relatives seems generally to be the most popular form of close family marriage around the world) [pgs. 64-67]:

“A brief description of Albanian society is required here. Albanians are divided into two language or dialect groups, the Gheg and the Tosk, with the Tosk dominating in southern Albania and the Gheg in northern Albania and the highlands (the division is roughly at the Shkumbi river). The Albanians in Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia are Ghegs (with some exceptions in southern Macedonia). Traditional structures, tribal or clan-based, as well as village community-based forms of social organisation remained important among the Albanian population in Kosovo throughout the Yugoslav period. There are notable elements of continuity in traditional loyalty structure and customary law (including the practice of blood feud). The terms ‘tribe’ and ‘clan’ are contested, but we may instead use the Albanian terms. The Albanian term ‘fis’ refers to a large groups which claim descent from one common male ancestor. Each fis is divided into sub-branches. Marriage within the same fis (based on the male line) is considered incestuous even if the ‘actual’ relationship is, say, nine or ten generations back (which does not apply on the maternal side).[12] In Kosovo there are about thirteen fises. A smaller group which traditionally has existed within the fis is a brotherhood or ‘vellazeri’, which is similar to the Balkan form of extended family, the ‘Zadruga’, but differs from it, for example, in that there was not a common budget. A ‘mehala’ is another term for a subgroup consisting of a number of closely related houses. A house, or a ‘shpi’ could itself consist of an extended family — something still existing in Kosovo although they have declined considerably during the Yugoslav period…. It should be noted that within the same fis some members can be Muslim and other Catholic. Among the Albanians there are Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox. The Orthodox prevail in south Albania (among the Tosk), whereas Kosovo is predominantly Muslim….

The traditional Albanian village consisted of the (often fortified) houses (kulle) of the extended families, but had no public spaces. There were no cafes or inns, or public buildings of any kind. All matters relating to society, or social life, were discussed inside the family houses, and the house was thereby of particular importance in Albanian cultural life…. In contrast to the pattern in northwestern Europe, for example, there were no intermediary associations or public spheres between the individual, or family, and the state and hence nothing resembling what has been called ‘civil society’ in the usage of eighteenth- or nineteenth-century thinkers. Indeed there was neither the social structure nor social infrastructure or type of economy for such an analytical term as ‘civil society’ to be applied; social life was shaped by the extended family (with its house), the clan and the village, and there was no social organisation beyond the extended family apart from the clan. All legal matters were strictly regulated in customary law and applied by the clans, or mediated in meetings by the elders (kuvend)….

“The Albanians … had no aspirations to an Albanian state before the twentieth century, but were quite content with remaining inside the Ottoman state. Although there may have been a growing Albanian identity, beyond the fis, especially in the nineteenth century, there was not really any expression of Albanian nationalism. Several factors made expressions of nationhood unlikely. There were disputes between clans, and the Albanians did not share a single religion, but were divided between Islam, Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism. The lifestyles of, for example, the Tosk in the south or in the coastal trading ports and the Gheg of the highlands were quite different.

“[12] As noted by Edith Durham, the Catholic Church prohibited marriage to the sixth degree, but on the maternal side much closer relatives might enter marriage. See Durham (1909: 22); The practice of prohibiting marriage within the fis remains today.”

previously: mating patterns in medieval eastern europe and invention of the modern world

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9 Comments

  1. “this is not strange, btw, since marriage to maternal relatives seems generally to be the most popular form of close family marriage around the world”

    If a population is trying to avoid “too much” inbreeding – however much that might be at a particular time and place – this paternal line bad, maternal line good idea seems like it might be a relatively simple system in terms of trying to keep track of who is related to who.

    Reply

  2. @g.w. – “If a population is trying to avoid ‘too much’ inbreeding….”

    it’s funny ’cause in the anthropological literature on the subject (and right now i don’t have a single reference at hand), when maternal cousin marrying peoples are asked “so why don’t you marry your paternal cousins?” the response is always something like “ewww! no, that’s INBREEDING!”

    and they seem to be right. paternal cousin marriage does lead to closer inbreeding than maternal cousin marriage. (at least i think it does.)

    Reply

  3. Hi hbdchick!

    I’m a Croatian (and thus Catholic) from the Hercegovina region. We have traditionally been close to our Franciscan Priests who have kept a very tight check on marriages. I’m not aware of any differentiation between paternal and maternal lines in respect to marriages and how they were treated. My maternal grandparents were sixth cousins, three times removed and even then the Priest took two weeks to go through the old records to make sure that there were no errors in his research :)

    What I’m asking you is what do you mean by marriage through maternal relatives in your post? Third cousin marriage? Second cousin?

    Reply

  4. @n&d – “I’m not aware of any differentiation between paternal and maternal lines in respect to marriages and how they were treated.”

    that’s interesting! thanks for the info.

    @n&d – “My maternal grandparents were sixth cousins, three times removed and even then the Priest took two weeks to go through the old records to make sure that there were no errors in his research :)”

    wow! you croatians must have some detailed genealogical records! are those records kept by the church? that is remarkable!

    @n&d – “What I’m asking you is what do you mean by marriage through maternal relatives in your post? Third cousin marriage? Second cousin?”

    yeah, i was a bit vague there in the post, mostly because i don’t know for sure one way or the other.

    what i was thinking was that many of these prohibitions in the balkans against marriage to anyone closer to a seventh cousin seem to apply only on the paternal side, like for the albanians. so that would leave marriage to a maternal cousin open.

    the question then is: are there any limitations in any of the various populations with regard to maternal cousin marriage? and my answer is: i dunno! (^_^) (but i mean to find out….)

    you probably saw the example of the chechens (not a balkan population, i know!) who have a prohibition against marrying anyone at all within the patrlineal clan (so that rules out many, many degrees of paternal cousins), but it’s ok to marry third cousins and beyond on your mother’s side. the ban on cousin marriage is stronger on the paternal side than the maternal. i think there may be a similar pattern in some of the balkan popultions, but i have yet to figure out in which ones.

    Reply

  5. I’m unaware of any double standards of the sort that you mention within my own population and I’ll keep digging to see what I can find.

    To answer your question, many Croatians have very intact marriage, baptismal and death records thanks to the priests who diligently recorded and maintained them. There are a lot of us now going through the old records painstakingly to build them and digitize them. I’ve been at it for years now.

    Reply

  6. @n&d – “To answer your question, many Croatians have very intact marriage, baptismal and death records thanks to the priests who diligently recorded and maintained them. There are a lot of us now going through the old records painstakingly to build them and digitize them.”

    that’s very cool! (^_^)

    Reply

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