Foreign marriage traditions often seem strange. It is customary to include the customs of primitive society among them: even if it is not known exactly how the issue of marital relations was then resolved, it is difficult to expect a civilized approach to marriage from those people. All the more strange is that many of the restrictions or, conversely, recommendations for choosing a partner have successfully existed from the earliest times to the present century (although some of them have already become a thing of the past).
Why endogamy was indispensable and why one woman needs multiple husbands
At the very beginning of the development of human society, endogamy, that is, the emergence of marital ties between members of the same community, was a natural thing – where else to find a couple in conditions when there is no one but wild animals for many kilometers around?
They did not go beyond the distant lands for the bride, and at first, there was no marriage as such. The mother brought up the child, and her brothers became the breadwinners; the father did not acquire any rights either to the child or to the woman’s territory or property.
Research suggests that there was dual exogamy when the clan was conditionally divided into two parts, and the marriage (or simply childbirth) was carried out between representatives of these parts.
For some time, already in ancient times, measures were taken against incest, albeit in conditions where genetic diversity was difficult to achieve. One of the remnants of those times – “cousin marriage” – survived safely until the 21st century, remaining a common occurrence for a large number of people.
An interesting and relatively rare variant of marriage has become polyandry when one woman creates a family with several men. The earliest mention of this type of union can be found in the documents of the ancient Sumerians, dated to the XXIV century BC.
They talk about a strict prohibition against women from having multiple husbands, and in case of violation of the rule, the culprit was to be stoned. And yet, for all the archaic nature of this phenomenon, it also has a place in the modern world.
Lack of land resources usually became the reason for polyandry. The plot of land belonging to the woman’s family was thus not split between families – the children remained with her and were raised by her relatives – brothers.
This tradition is safely preserved among the natives of the Trobriand Islands in the Pacific Ocean. By the way, these islanders are convinced that the child inherits only the mother’s qualities, and the father is needed only for his birth. Similar customs exist in some tribes in Africa and also on rare occasions in India and Tibet.
Marrying the husband’s brother or marrying the wife’s sister – why?
Much more often in the past and present of humanity met and occurs polygyny – the marriage of one man and several women. Moreover, in place of wives, the community’s rules intended, for example, sisters – in an archaic and traditional society, this was a widespread phenomenon; in science, it was called sororate.
It was possible to marry the first wife’s sister either by becoming a widower or without waiting for the death of one’s “half.” Now such a custom is preserved in some tribes of North America and in India, where a lost wife can be offered her sister as a bride.
The patriarchal-clan system gave humanity another interesting phenomenon – levirate; this is the duty of a woman who buried her husband to choose a new one from among his brothers or other close relatives. Such a custom was among many peoples – the ancient Greeks and ancient Jews, among the peoples of Central Asia.
The Jews gave the levirate the name Yibbum: a childless widow could marry her brother-in-law. But among the Slavs, levirate did not receive a distribution.
Why was it necessary to so limit the conditions for choosing a new husband? The reasons are pretty reasonable: children from the first marriage, if they had time to be born, remained in the family (in the family). Often in traditional societies, before marriage, the bride’s parents were paid a Kalym. Therefore, the woman became the property of the new family and “worked” to continue this particular family.
In addition, paradoxically, but such a “transfer” of marriage relations within the family prevented possible incest: if the children left with their mother to another clan, the likelihood of later marrying one of the father’s relatives turned out to be high, the levirate excluded this development of events.
Cousin Marriages: What’s wrong with them
But the cousin marriage, once arose in the conditions of the tribal system, happily took root in the new era, and in European families, such a custom was not uncommon. To a greater extent, marriage to a cousin became characteristic of high society, especially for the ruling dynasties.
The consequence of this practice was the deterioration of the health of each new generation of children, up to degeneration, as happened, for example, with the Spanish Habsburgs.
Infertility, blood diseases, diseases leading to disease, and early death resulted from cousin marriages concluded in the interests of states and major politicians. The disadvantages of such unions were known back in ancient times. Therefore, in different societies, there was a taboo on the relations of close relatives.
For violations of the guilty, they were punished most severely, up to execution. There were other reasons to look for grooms and brides “from the neighbors” – to establish inter-tribal ties, to conclude military alliances.
“Do not marry your people, but avoid marriage with a stranger” – this is how the motto of humanity could sound throughout its history. Endo- and exogamy turned out to be two sides of the same coin, setting boundaries for searching for a life partner for each community member.
At the same time, exogamy ensured health for people and healthy relations between tribes. Endogamy was needed to preserve traditions, skill, knowledge, and secrets within a limited circle of initiates and increase resources and family ties.
When it comes to marriage, the world is not as progressive as one might expect. Many peoples preserve remnants of the past in one form or another. Manchus, according to tradition, cannot create families with persons of another family nickname.
In China, marriage between namesakes is not allowed. Marriages between cousins are common in several countries, for example, in Azerbaijan. And so far, unfortunately, the world is far from finally overcoming the traditional obstacles to marriage: belonging to different races, nationalities, or religions.