Marriage and Kinship

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Marriage is recognized as the basic foundation on which family is formed. Anthropologists view marriage as a way of different societies understanding mating and its consequences. It is a union of two people that is used to regulate heterosexual relationships, stating who is an acceptable sexual partner and who is not. It is the foundation of families.  Through marriage, households are formed, resulting in the development of kinship ties and continuing of family name by birth. In the western culture, marriage results in permanent bonds between the couple, with centrally assigned sexual rights among the couple and parenthood responsibility. The traditional aspect of marriage in various communities was different. This paper aims at tackling the change in the anthropological view of marriage and kinship ties in the society.

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People get married for various reasons. Some are logic and some are not at all. People marry because they are in love. They decide to spend the rest of their lives together. It is easy to assume so, but not many get to marry because of love always. Others are in the marriage because they do not want to be lonely, or they are pregnant and do not want to be single parents. Others marry for financial purposes. Traditionally, marriage is to provide companionship and create an ideal environment for the couple to have children and continue their linage. Some reasons for marriage are political and others are economic. Families will intermarry to keep power within their dynasties. Marriage is not always about love or sex only. In communities where sex before marriage is prohibited, marriage gives the couple a license to practice sex without questioning. It gives one the right to sexually own the other. It commits two, to be together in body and soul, to provide for their children and be recognized by the society (Williams, 43).

Anthropologically, all the definitions given to marriage and kinship try to account for all the changes that these two institutions have gone through. This is for instance taking into account polyandrous marriages and gay marriages. Most anthropologists view marriage as a legitimacy based institution though economic anthropologists like Duran Bell criticize this idea.

Other anthropologists argue that not all definitions of marriage apply to all communities. Leach offered a list of rights associated with marriage. They include:

  1. Establishing of a legal father to a woman’s child
  2. Give the child a legal mother
  3. Give the couple monopoly in sexuality
  4. Give a husband rights to a wife’s domestic labor services and the wife too those of the husband
  5. Give the couple monopoly over each other’s property.
  6. To establish a joint property ownership for the benefit of the children
  7. And establish a relationship of affinity between the husband and wife’s brothers.

Marriage was formerly tied to just man and woman. So much has changed within the marriage institution now. Same sex marriages are not strange of late.  Monogamy and gay marriages are factors that have changed with time. So is marriages to next of kin. A cultural anthropologist Robert Meyers observes the changes the marriage institution has undergone over the years. He states that the traditional form of marriage in the United States of America was monogamy. Polygamy and polyandry was shunned and looked down upon. The idea of marrying kin members was also a repulsive idea and most Americans did not approve of it.  Now the situation is different though. Polyandry and polygamy are not a big issue. Cousins can marry without much societal reproach. Gay marriages have been constitutionalized. Divorces are almost becoming a trend. The basic structure of marriage that used to exist got smashed along the way. These factors are discussed more below.


This is the practice of marrying one wife or one husband at a time. There are any types of marriages but this is the only type of marriage that is legal in most nations. In some states polygamy was allowed due to traditional cultures but over time, it became illegal. Monogamy can be social, sexual, martial, or genetic. It is social monogamy when two people choose to build their lives around each other in terms of sex and parenting. Sexual monogamy is when the couple is sexually exclusive with each other.  Genetic monogamy is where the two have only children with each other, and serial monogamy is where one partner quits a relationship with the other and moves on to the next partner, one at a time. Christianity upholds monogamy and it being the main religion in most nations, monogamy is widely practiced. It is important to notice that although monogamy involves one partner at a time, one can divorce and marry someone else.


Polygamy is the marrying of various spouses. It can either be a man marrying more than one wife (polygyny) or the woman having more than one husband, (polyandry). Polygyny is the common of the two and is practiced in some religions like Islam and Mormonism. Having several wives/husbands or sexual partners is different from having concubines. There are two types of polyandry, fraternal and secondary marriage. Fraternal polyandry is where brothers marry the same wife and all have responsibility to the children produced in the relationship. This tradition was practiced to preserve family wealth. In secondary marriage, the rule is one is married for life. So the woman can marry another man while still married to the previous husband. This practice is common in Nigeria and Congo. In the polygynous families, the relationship between the husband and the wives and also the wives with each other and the children depends on how the father figure behaves. When he treats all his wives fairly, there is usually minimal conflicts and the wives cohabitate in peace with minimal jealousy for each other. The children are also taught to respect all the wives and view them as their mothers. With appropriate behavior demonstrated by all parties involved, the only conflict issue that might arise among the women would be the difference in the number of children they have or their literacy levels. In the polygynous families, conflict would arise due to jealousy issues.


Polyamory is a complicated kind of a relationship where more than two people are in a closed relationship with each other. A relationship of three is a triad and having more is referred to as polycule.         Here, the involved parties have a number of sexual and committed partners since they believe love is infinite and it is possible to love as many people and have relationship with them all.

Same sex marriage.

Lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender people in the society are finally finding their voices in the society and being recognized. The constitutional amendment in the Supreme Court in 2015 allowed for their marriages. Many individuals who identify with the LGBTQ group in most societies still face a lot of discrimination, nonetheless. It is a practice that is yet to be recognized in most societies. Canada, Mexico, France, and Ireland are among the countries that have approved of gay marriages in their nation. A lot of awareness is being raised about the LGBTQ society. In several schools in countries that approve of it, clubs are formed to help the students identify with this practice if they are sexually oriented in this direction.

Ghost marriage.

Ghost marriages are practiced in some communities when a wealthy man dies without children. The wife marries his “ghost” while the brother to the dead man takes his position, hence he can raise off spring for him with the wife. The children born of this marriage are entitled to inheritance of the deceased wealth. Ghost marriages are practiced in China, Nigeria and Sudan.  It is different from a levirate marriage though.

Arranged marriage.

Arranged marriages are ones where the couples are introduced to each other by two interested parties. For instance, parents might decide they want their families intermarried and hence nudge their children to get married. The marriage can be forced or the individuals are given time to court each other.  The marriages usually serve to benefit the party that introduces the couple to each other more than the couple does.  They, however, tend to last longer and thrive unlike other marriages as the couple learns to grow with each other and from the support they receive.

Once a couple is established, they assume different settlement patterns. Some find a shelter independent from their parents and the other family members. Some assume patrilocal settlement whereby they settle with the groom’s family. In matrilocal settlement, they move in with the wife’s family, though this is not a common practice.

Child marriage.

This is a type of marriage where both spouses are under 18 or one of the spouse. It was a common practice until it got condemned by international human rights organizations. In some communities, the consent for marriage was when the girl was 7 years of age. Child marriages were as a result of poverty and social pressures mostly. In some parts of the world like South Asia, child marriage is still widely practiced.


Some countries recognize cohabitation as a marriage institution that is lieu of taxation like in Australia.

Cultural references of marriages.

The different kinship ties in the society determine how people interact with each other. There are basic fundamental relations accorded in marriage that cannot be ignored. For instance is the responsibility of the marrying families to each other. This is in terms of dowry and bride wealth. Dowry is paid by the bride’s family to the grooms. In some communities like among the Indians, it is the ladies who take the dowry. It can be inform of money or house hold goods or land. It is considered a contribution of the lady to her inheritance. Bride wealth on the other hand is an equivalent of the dowry but now from the groom’s side as a contribution to the bride’s family to act as a compensation for losing their daughter to him.

Other kinship relations are addressed in terms of endogamy, exogamy, isogamy or hypergamy/hypogamy. Endogamy is practice of marriage only from specific groups or cultures. It can be in terms of ethnicity, social class, or religion. Based on this, any other person does not make a suitable marriage partner. Exogamy involves marrying from outside a given cultural group, and is done to avoid close kin marriages (Fox, 1983, 273).


When a marriage does not work out as a couple would want it to, they seek a legal dissolution of their marriage that declares them both single. While it is legal and allowed in most countries, it is considered a taboo in some. In Philippines, a couple cannot divorce under the law of the land. It doesn’t matter where the couple is, but under no circumstance can they divorce. Their marriage can only be declared null if there was some sort of mistake in their marriage. In Christianity, divorce is also shunned. Under the Roman Catholic law, a couple cannot divorce.

The effects of divorce are tremendous, not just to the couple but to the children too. There are various causes of people to divorce, right from infidelity or thee couple realizing they are no longer in love with each other. Other reasons can be financial problems or health related. Whatever the reason, the results of the divorce can cause one depression. Not just the affected spouse, but the children too. The rates for divorce have tripled over the century.


Kinship is a cultural link between people formed either by blood, marriage or adoption. It forms the basis of social interactions among people. In anthropology, however, there have been various debates on the exact meaning of kinship. Robin Fox considers study of kinship as thee study of what people do with mating, parenthood and socialization with each other. Thus is the study of descent, lineage, and fictive kinship. Kinship ties formed by descent links can be unilineal, whereby the person identifies with descent from the mother or father’s side. From father’s side, they are patrilineal and from mother’s side it is matrilineal. Most societies identify with the patrilineal descent, as they are usually chauvinistic, giving dominance to the males. In the societies that identify with the matrilineal side, it is the women who hold power in the society and this is practiced in very few communities. A bilineal descent is one that gives credit to both parent’s descents. It is also referred to as a bilateral descent.

The kinship ties that are formed by marriage are referred to as affinity. They form basis of how individuals are divided and organized into social groups like family.

The family.

The family is a social unit in which a couple comes together to raise their children together. Anthropologists and feminists debate whether a family can be complete without a father Families are made up of members by birth or marriage. . A conjugal family has both father and mother whereas a non-conjugal does not. A matrifocal one is made up of just the mother and her children. An extended family includes other members of the family like aunts and uncles. The main purpose of a family is to produce children to carry on with the family name (Welsch, 327).

One is able to keep a track of his kinship roots by taking into account genealogical records. Genealogy records are passed down the history lane by various means. They can be by historical records, oral, or modern genealogy. It not only serves to prevent same blood marriage but also is a source of pride, especially for those with royalty in their blood line.

It is true that marriage is not only about the couple becoming parents. It is a basic rite of passage in life. Most societies have age limits beyond which the person begins getting the pressure to marry from the society. It is a fundamental part of a person’s life, not just to him, but to the society as whole.  That would explain why pressure is placed upon an individual to marry once they are of certain age.

After kinship and marriage, anthropologists are now focusing on romantic love. In their previous studies of marriage and kinship, they shunned romantic love with the western society only. Now the in many countries, they have noticed the bloom of romance. Romantic love is forming the new basis for marriages now in today’s society.

Nonetheless, marriage is still accorded respect in the society and viewed as an important rite of human passage. It can be terminated by death of a partner, divorce, or annulment. Most marriages nowadays end up in divorce and so do many kinship ties as they are not payed much attention to anymore.

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Marriage and Kinship. (2019, Oct 10). Retrieved September 27, 2022 , from

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