cousin marriage in sub-saharan africa

whenever i’m kinda tired and slightly braindead, i usually start trawling the streets google books or online journals for any info/data on mating patterns in human populations. (unless i rewatch star wars for the umpteenth millionth time, obviously.) it’s my own, personal form of trainspotting just with less trains. and more mating patterns.

so i thought i’d share with you what i’ve got to date for sub-saharan (ss) african populations. this is faaar from being a complete list, nor is it systematic in any way. it’s just the stuff that i’ve happened to come across so far, so don’t read anything into the list like “overall there seems to be more inbreeding or outbreeding” or whatever.

first of all, there are a LOT of ss african populations! thousands. so, you know, it’ll take some time to get info on them all! here’s a map of the broad ethnolinguistic groups of africa that i’ve stolen from wikipedia — remember that there are hundreds if not thousands of subgroups within these broad groups:

subsaharan africa ethnolinguistic groups

needless to say, with such a wide variety of peoples, there is also a wide variety of mating patterns in ss africa. some populations avoid cousin marriage altogether. we’ve already seen this with the bamileke of cameroon and the igbo of nigeria. also the turkana of kenya and quite possibly the amhara of ethiopia (not 100% sure about them — need to double-check). a notable group which apparently avoids cousin marriage is the zulu. but plenty of other ss africa groups do practice cousin marriage like, as you’ll see in the table below, the kongo and luba in the democratic republic of congo, the ashanti in ghana, the sotho-tswana in south africa, and the kpelle of liberia. (fun fact that’s stuck in my brain for some reason — some of oprah’s ancestors were probably kpelle.)

the most common form of cousin marriage in ss africa is mother’s brother’s daughter (mbd) marriage which isn’t too surprising since that is the most common form of cousin marriage in the world. there’s an interesting twist to it in ss africa, though, thanks to all of the polygamy which is also very common in ss african societies. here from robin fox [pg. 195]:

This latter form of marriage [mother’s brother’s daughter] is common in Africa and in patrilineal societies generally. Often, in Africa, it goes along with marriage to the wife’s brother’s daughter, as shown in diagram 4.2. A man either marries his wife’s brother’s daughter or passes the privilege on to his son (at least this is one way of looking at it). In many societies it is simply a straightforward privilege to marry the mother’s brother’s daughter.”

so, yeah, in case you were wondering, that would make the kids of these two wives (wife number one/aunt and wife number two/niece) both half-siblings and first cousins once-removed. and the children of wife number one are the first cousins once-removed to their father (and mother). and the children of wife number two are second cousins to their father. i think. i’ll let you think about it for a while. (~_^)

there is some father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage (the type favored by the arabs) in some areas of ss africa — most notably amongst the hausa and fulani in northern nigeria, and the songhai and soninke in mali — but these are all muslim groups who i would guess picked up fbd marriage from the arabs/north african groups that introduced islam to them. youssef courbage and emmanuel todd think otherwise [pg. 43]:

“So-called Arab marriage, accepting union with any first cousin, but preferably with the father’s brother’s daughter, is not characteristic of sub-Saharan Africa. It is widely practiced only by the Fulani, nomadic herders of the northern fringe, immediately south of the desert, at a level so much higher than the Arab norm that it probably had an independent origin. It is also characteristic of some sedentary groups in the same area (Soninke in Senegal, Mali, and Mauritania; Songhai in Mali; Hausa in northern Nigeria). In West Africa, marriage is usually either exogamous or characterized by a preference for cross-cousin marriage, that is, between the children of a brother and a sister, a practice that has nothing to do with Islam.”

i don’t know if that statement about the fulani practicing a greater amount of fbd marriage than the arabs is correct or not. i shall have to try and find out. (here might be a good place to start.) i think it’s more likely that, being that the fulani have obviously been in contact with the arab/muslim world for quite a long time, they picked up the practice in that way. the afghanis and pakistanis also practice quite a lot of fbd marriage even though they’re at the edge of the “arabized” world, albeit at the other end of it, so i doubt that distance from arabia matters much here. it’s the contact with the greater arab world that counts.

two ss african groups that do seem to have adopted fbd marriage independently are the sotho-tswana and venda of south africa. need to learn more about those two groups. (note that the fbd marriage recorded in the table for the tutsi in rwanda refers only to some of the elites, not the general population.)

additionally, as in christian europe (especially medieval europe), some ss african groups prohibit marriage between in-laws — which is interesting. one example are the yao of malawi. they, however, happen to have a preference for cross-cousin marriage.

again, the other mating practice that is very common in ss africa is polygamy. i’ve said a few times here on the blog that you’d think that that would narrow the gene pool/relatedness between individuals in a group just as cousin marriage does. it might not always, though, because polygamy is not one thing either (can nothing ever be easy and straightforward?! (~_^) ). the lozi of zambia, for instance, apparently practice (or did traditionally) a sort of rapid serial polygamy, with wives being shuffled rather quickly on to the next husband, so that wouldn’t really narrow the genetic relatedness in the population at all, afaics. quite the opposite really. on the other hand, some groups practice sororal polygamy with the men making sure to marry sets of sisters, so that would narrow the relatedness in the group more so than a more basic form of polygamy in which men married women more randomly. the conclusion wrt polygamy, i think, is that each group will have to be evaluated on an individual basis. (*sigh*)

problem number one: for my purposes, since i’m interested in evolution and the selection of behavioral traits, i need to know how long populations have been inbreeding or outbreeding for, since natural selection does take some amount of time (but not necessarily millions of years). that’s difficult to work out for ss africans (and most of the world for that matter) without historic records or reams of genetic data which we haven’t got yet. it might be possible to reconstruct some of the history of mating patterns for some of the groups in ss africa from colonial accounts, especially those of missionaries who also acted as early ethnographers in many ways. we shall see. it would certainly be interesting to know for how long some of these groups have been inbreeding or outbreeding. as we’ve already seen, for instance, wikipedia claims that the igbo had a “quasi-republican” form of government in the 1400s with some sort of one-man-one-vote system. that’s not a system you find in heavily inbreeding societies — at least none that i can think of. what if it’s connected to the igbo outbreeding? dunno. Further Research is RequiredTM — and most likely it’ll have to be genetic.

problem number two: don’t have a whole lot of info on the rates of cousin marriage (or not) for most of these populations either. that’s also an extremely important detail to know. here are the few groups that i do have some numbers for:

– the fulani of burkina-faso: 65.8% first and second cousin marriage rate
– the fulani, mandinka, and wolof in gambia: 65% of first marriages of men are to a cousin – that’s an average of the three populations, and i don’t have a breakdown for each group
– the fouta-jallon (taramabli-dionfo) of guinea: 25.9% cousin marriage rate
– the yoruba of oka akoko in nigeria: 51.2% cousin marriage rate
– the lobedu (sotho) of south africa: 30% cousin marriage rate

so, there’s a variety in the rates, too. again, not surprising.

i think that’s it by way of the intro, so without further ado, here is my table. oh, the populations highlighted in yellow are those which include more than ten million people. and many of these groups spill over into other countries, of course, apart from the ones in which i’ve listed them [click on table for LARGER view – should open in new tab/window]:

cousin marriage in africa - table

i think that’s it for now! stay tuned. (^_^)

A Companion to Ethics
– – Table 1 – Consanguinity in Africa [pdf]
Contingent Lives: Fertility, Time, and Aging in West Africa
A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around The World
Culture and Customs of South Africa
Ethnic Groups of Africa and the Middle East: An Encyclopedia
The Family Estate in Africa: Studies in the Role of Property in Family Structure and Lineage Continuity
Joking, Affinity and the Exchange of Ritual Services Among the Kiga of Northern Rwanda: An Essay on Joking Relationship Theory
The Making of the Pentecostal Melodrama: Religion, Media and Gender in Kinshasa
Man in Africa
Milk, Honey, and Money: Changing Concepts in Rwandan Healing
Nomads who Cultivate Beauty: Wodaabe Dances and Visual Arts in Niger
The Problem of Context
Reproduction and Social Organization in Sub-Saharan Africa
Seven Tribes of British Central Africa
Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives
The Social Basis of Health and Healing in Africa
Structure and Sentiment: A Test Case for Social Anthropology
Women and Marriage in Kpelle Society
Women of Tropical Africa

previously: the bamileke of cameroon and fulani, hausa, igbo, and yoruba mating patterns and the turkana: mating patterns, family types, and social structures and ethiopia notes and
flatlanders vs. mountaineers revisited

(note: comments do not require an email. the yao of malawi. people will do the silliest things!)

liberté! égalité! ivoirité!

minus the liberté and égalité, of course.

i’m talking about the civil war in the ivory coast. i don’t suppose i have to explain to anyone stopping by here that this war is not about democracy or freeing the slaves or any such nonsense. no, this is a good, old fashioned ethnic war (like pretty much all of them, come to think of it…).

and how could it not be when, in a “nation” where the borders were drawn by european statesmen far away on another continent, the country is made up of 60+ ethnic groups! here’s a map of the major tribal divisions:

everything was going along swimmingly while félix the cat houphouët-boigny was benevolent-ish dictator of the place. at least there was a fairly decent economy (based mostly on the growing of cocoa) and people could earn an ok living, compared to many places in africa that is. he was in charge for 30-something years, and then he went and died on everybody, after which the country just went to h*ll in a handbasket.

from what i gather, the basic dispute (over resources, as always) is between southern, christian peoples — like houphouët-boigny’s baoulés, one of several akan tribes — and northern, muslim peoples — like the sénoufo people, some of whom live in countries north of the ivory coast, like mali and burkina-faso. (sounds kinda like nigeria. i presume a similar sitch exists all over west africa…?)

but, there are also disputes between southerners, like the baoulés and the bétés to the west. apparently, lots of baoulés have moved west and set up successful cocoa farms in bété territory, which the bété resent. additionally, many of the immigrants from burkina faso didn’t stay up north in the territories of their fellow tribesmen, but also moved to western areas of the country to work as cheap laborers on the cocoa farms.

at the same time, other cheap laborers from guinea and liberia to the west also came to work on the cocoa farms in the western part of the ivory coast. many of them are from the same tribes as the peoples from western ivory coast (tribes don’t follow these artificial, national boundaries). so, now that there’s fighting between the baoulés vs. the bétés+other western tribes, the guinean and liberian immigrants join in in support of their fellow tribesmen in the west. meanwhile, everyone beats up on the burkinabés (people from burkina faso).

what a mess.

which brings us to another major point of this civil war. not only is it a war between different ethnic groups|tribes within the ivory coast, it’s also a war over who should be considered a citizen of the ivory coast. in other words, who should have access to the resources of the ivory coast. for, you see, houphouët-boigny apparently practiced some of the ol’ “elect a new people“** stuff by doling out citizenship to immigrants from burkina-faso (many of whom, like we saw in the case of the sénoufo people above, would be related to already existing tribes in northern ivory coast). no doubt he did this to court their, and their fellow tribemen’s, favor — but needless to say, it has p*ssed off many of the other groups in the ivory coast.

which brings us back to ivoirité. i know it sounds like i made that up, but it’s an actual term in usage in the ivory coast! it was originally coined as a sort-of politically correct, we-should-all-love-ivory-coast-multiculturalism word — i.e. “we’re all ivorians!” but it didn’t take, and was quickly co-opted and turned on its head to mean some of us are real ivorians — the rest of you have just arrived recently from burkina faso (or wherever) and don’t belong.

there was actually a law for a while saying that you couldn’t be president of the ivory coast unless both your parents were born in the country. (not a bad law, afaics.) that law was passed to block this guy from the north (a guy with familial connections to burkina faso) from becoming president, but at some point the law was overturned (don’t ask me when or how). and now it seems he has been elected president (at least that’s what the u.n. says). and, so, of course, all h*ll has broken loose.

the lesson? yeah, well, multiculturalism doesn’t work (but you already knew that). especially in a place where there are many different ethnic groups. i’d love to tell you about how inbred the ivorians are, but i don’t have any data at hand for them, and it’s too late on a sunday night for me to start looking now. suffice it to say that, no doubt, most of the tribes are endogamous — otherwise there wouldn’t be any tribes in ivory coast! also, some people in neighboring guinea have a consanguinity rate of 25.9%, while to the north in burkina faso, the fulani have a consanguinity rate of 65.8%, so inbreeding is definitely not unheard of in the region. i’m sure it must occur in the ivory coast.

the war nerd sums it all up well:

“In Ivory Coast, this latest flare-up came when the Coastal/Christian presidential candidate, Laurent Gbagbo, wouldn’t admit he lost the 2010 election. Most of the Jimmy-Carter types who like to sniff around other countries’ ballot boxes agree that Gbagbo lost to the Muslim Northerner Alassane Ouattara beat Gbagbo 54% to 46%….

“There are a lot of similarities, us and them. Ivory Coast used to be the rich country in West Africa, just like we used to be the rich country in North America. And just like us, they had tons of illegal immigrants from poorer places, landlocked sweatboxes like Burkina Fasso, with a GDP measured in scorpions and diseases. And a huge number of those illegal immigrants voted. The Burnkina Fasso immigrants were all Muslim and they voted for Ouattara. How would you feel if the US election was decided by illegal Muslim immigrants? [or, how about mexican immigrants?! – hbdchk] Well, that’s how Gbagbo and his coastal Christians felt. I mean, it’s got to be frustrating; you see that the French are the big new power and you let your own African identity get Frenchified for generations and then out of the blue the power shifts and you’re losing out to Muslim hillbillies who don’t even have citizenship. Everything you’ve built up for generations, all the stuff you’ve paid for in shame for generations getting ordered around by the whites, and now it’s for nothing?”

yup. s*cks.

**this “electing a new people” practice must be found right on page three of the standard, how-to manual given out to all aspiring leaders|politicians: “how to win friends and maintain power once you’ve got it.” electing a new people seems to be — and to have been — done EVERYWHERE!

update –

The next Rwanda? ‘In all districts of Abidjan there is gunfire’

“Early reports suggested that more than 800 people, largely from the Gbagbo-supporting Gueré tribe, were killed in a single day at the sprawling Salesian Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus mission in Duekoue, 300 miles west of Abidjan towards the Liberian border. The attackers seem to have been largely soldiers descended from Burkina Faso immigrant Muslim families loyal to Ouattara….

“The inter-ethnic violence around Duekoue that has driven the Gueré tribal people into the mission station mirrors the kind of ethnic tensions that prevail throughout most of Ivory Coast. The Gueré ancestors had possessed the land for centuries before people from the arid north and from neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali began settling there 40 years ago, seeking work as cocoa prices boomed on world markets. Ivory Coast historically has produced more than 40% of the world’s supply of beans for production of the developed world’s chocolate products.

“Ethnic tensions and xenophobic killings began when the world price of cocoa nosedived in the 1990s and some five million immigrant workers were suddenly perceived as a burden. The southern-dominated Government introduced a new xenophobic concept of ‘Ivorité’, or Ivorianess. Vigilantes began killing ‘foreigners’ – the majority of them Muslims and many of them third-generation immigrants – on plantations and in shanties on the edges of the towns as the country, once the richest in West Africa, descended into civil war.”

another update – from al jazeera:

‘African politics at a crossroads’

Q. How do these ‘fragile countries’ break out of these cycles?

“There is also a responsibility from the population to be far more educated to understand that during an election do not vote purely on tribal lines. As is ever so apparent across Africa where most vote for the man or woman that belongs to their tribe and cultural affiliation rather that the person who has the best policies. There is a need for the populace to become more educated and to choose wisely with their vote and understand the ramification of the choices they make and how best to use their vote.

“Finally the electoral process of choosing a president or a leader for a country should be organised and controlled by ECOWAS. They should work closely with the electoral commission and the decision should be final. This way disputes will be minimal and there will not be a risk that the process ha been compromised or sabotaged by tribalism or cultural affiliation.”

heh. yeah. good luck with that. where there are tribes, there will be tribalistic behaviors. a functioning, modern, democratic society will NOT happen in a tribal society.

some good comments on that article on the al jazeera website:

mandefu – “Africa is not at a crossroads, it is in a phase of phoney independence between the old colonialism of Europe and the new colonolialism of China. The only thing the average African has going for them is the safety net provided by extended family, i.e. the tribe. The state does nothing for the ordinary citizen except shake them down. In other words, tribalism is about the only positive feature of the African socio-political mess. This article spouts the usual ‘politically correct’ condemnation of tribalism. That is pernicious and would only come from the mindset of non-Africans or westernised African ‘Intellectuals’….”

nadreck – “The Nation State is an essentially Chinese and European social structure and, although it is an excellent one, it is all too often thought of as the *only* acceptable organisation. ‘One size fits all’? Bah! This is especially true in Africa where most of the borders were simply sketched out with a straight-edge ruler by some 19th century European Ruler and make no sense at all. Still what to do instead? Various alternatives such as Pakistan’s Tribal Zones have been tried and all have been miserable failures….”

update 05/11 – Lessons from the Ivory Coast

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