ihtg pointed out (thnx, ihtg!) that ethiopian jews have very strong exogamous mating patterns (except for mating outside of their ethnic group, presumably). he mentioned the ‘zamad’, which is the beta israel term for extended family. when looking for a marriage partner for their children, ethiopian jews would exclude anyone within the zamad related to them going back seven generations! that means marriage between sixth-cousins and anyone closer was not really (heh) kosher. from “Surviving salvation: the Ethiopian Jewish family in transition” [pg. 59]:

“For the Beta Israel, in contrast, social life was organized around the flexible and often-overlapping concepts of the extended family (zamad) and household (beta sa’ab). Zamad is a term whose precise meaning varies according to the circumstances and, in particular, according to what it is being contrasted. Thus, zamad is most frequently used to refer to an entire extended family (as opposed to strangers), but it was also used to distinguish blood relations (yesaga zamad) from in-laws (amachenat). When searching for a spouse for a son or daughter, parents would automatically exclude anyone in their zamad counting back seven generations. Thus to marry even a third cousin would be considered a form of incest! Since sons traditionally settled in the same village as their parents when they married, many local communities consisted of one or several extended families. Membership in a large and powerful zamad provided both practical benefits and social standing. Members of a zamad were expected to support each other in time of need. Within the borders of the zamad little attention was paid to the ‘real’ relationship between members. Thus, according to circumstance, grandparents, uncles, or older siblings might be a child’s ‘parents.’ A person’s ‘children’ might easily include nieces, nephews, stepchildresn, and younger siblings. His or her biological sons and daughters might be teens before they realized that some of their ‘brothers and sisters’ were in fact cousins!”

so, the beta israel are very outbred within their extended family (zamad). it’s not clear to me who a preferred marriage partner might be — someone from one’s own zamad, just beyond sixth cousin? or someone from another zamad? and if it’s someone from another zamad, is it someone from another zamad from the same village? inquiring minds want to know!

still, the beta israel are so outbred within their zamad that keeping track of who’s your sibling or who’s your first-cousin or even who’s your fifth-cousin is not really important because all of them are off-limits as far as marriage goes. they don’t need to keep track of their father’s brother’s daughter or mother’s brother’s daughter the way the arabs do, ’cause neither of those individuals are marriable. kind-of like how the germans, before the arrival of christianity, had specific words for the different types of cousins, but once they could no longer marry most of their cousins, the term ‘cousin’ was then universally applied to all of them. (these germans included anglo-saxons, too, of course.)

so, i decided to look around to see if i could find out anything about the mating patterns of other groups of ethiopians — i recalled seeing something about this prohibition against sixth cousin marriage, or something like that, somewhere else (i think it was here on wikipedia).

first of all, there are several different ethnic groups in ethiopia, of course: oromo, amhara, tagray, etc. — some are cushitic, others semitic, others nilotic — many are christians, some are muslims.

but look what i found out about some of them [pg. 406]:

“In the central highland societies of Amhara, Tagray, several Gurage groups, but also among the Omotic-speaking Dizi in the south-west, clans do not exist and people trace descent along bilateral lines. Both the above types rest on ideas of lineal kinship through descent from a father’s line, a mother’s line or through both, but bilateral tracing or ambilineality excludes clanship. Males and females can inherit through both their mother’s and father’s line, but actualization of the rights of the claims is strongly situational.

“In ambilineal societies, the nuclear family tends to be the most important unit, although in the rural areas this unit is often at least two-generational. Among the Amhara, wife and husband kept their rights of possession in property brought into the marriage, making for a relatively equal, or at least independent, and somewhat competitive relation between spouses. As clans are absent to define the kin circle outside of which one has to marry, bilateral or ambilineal societies use a generational rule of distance, e.g., the well-known one among Amhara (and taken over by many other groups) that one may not marry ‘within seven generations’ reckoned from ego upwards, i.e., no descendant from a common great-great-great-grandparent on either mother’s or father’s side. Such a group of descendants from an apical male (wanna abbat) is often called bet (‘house’) among the Amhara or anda among Tegrenna-speakers.”

“bet” like beta israel? prolly.

listen to what amhara and tagray societies are like!:

“The bilateral kinship system in the case of the Amhara, and probably even more so the Tagray, has led to a highly individualistic ethos where kin bonds are subject to high variability and negotiation. As among clan group members, there are no automatically solidary kin group units in this society. Tagray kinship in particular is marked by a strongly contractual, ‘political’ character. Locality and neighbourhood are more important than kin-based households. Ambilineal societies have thus given rise to an extraordinary social dynamism, generating individual competition (thus perhaps contributing to the meritorious complex in Ethiopia) but also to a high conflict potential on the level of households.

neato! except for the conflict part. doesn’t sound all that foreign (if you’re a europoid), eh? and, of course, it’s not the bilateral kinship system that’s led to the “highly individualistic ethos” but, rather, all the oubreeding.

there’s more:

“Among the Dizi of south-west Ethiopia, a people living in the midst of lineage societies like Me’en, Benc, and Suri, there is neither clan organization nor lineage thinking. They trace bilateral lines on both side, and in this they resemble northern Semitic-speaking societies, which whom they indeed claimed historical affinity…. Dizi exogamy rules are based on generational distance reckoning (the ‘seven generation’ rule), as among the Amhara and Tagray.

other groups in ethiopia are not as exogamous as the amhara, tagray or dizi, and they appear to be more clannish. the oromo, for instance [pg. 405]:

“The Oromo, the most numerous and diversified people in Ethiopia, are historically a segmentary, patrilineal clan society, based on named clans. The genealogical principle is strong…. Migrations and socio-economic change have led to local adaptations of the system. These societies are, however, still strongly patriarchal, and polygamy is frequent. There is no clear rule of clan exogamy among Oromo; instead there is (or was) a rule of not marrying within the hidda groups of close relatives, reckoned five generations back.

five generations back means a prohibition against marrying anyone closer than fourth-cousins. that’s closer endogamy, then, than the amhara, etc., who won’t marry sixth cousins or closer (as a general rule). it also sounds like the oromo might favor marrying within the clan, just beyond fourth-cousins. polygamy, too, also narrows the degrees of genetic relatedness within a group of people.

ethiopia sounds like an interesting place with regard to mating patterns — there are many different groups with a variety of different mating traditions, unlike western europe which just sorta has two broad patterns — in the north, don’t marry your cousins — in the south, don’t marry your cousins either, but we’ll let you get away with marrying your cousins more than they do in the north.

will have to learn more about ethiopia!

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