From the Greek evxoZ + yapco ( “in” + “to marry”), endogamy is the marital rule according to which the spouses are selected from within the same social group (kindred, religious, ethnic, etc.). It is the opposite of exogamy.
Through endogamy, social groups aim to preserve their constitutive elements (for example, power, wealth, religion, language) and transmit them to the following generations, in order to perpetuate their existence.
Each society may be endogamic in one or more aspects and exogamic in others. For instance, the Aborigines in Australia are exogamic as to the clan (a social group the members of which acknowledge a common ancestry and whose relationships are ruled by solidarity) but endogamic as to the tribe (wider than a clan group that owns a territory and is homogeneous and autonomous from a political and social viewpoint).
One form of endogamy is the one taking place within the kindred group (but beyond the boundaries of incest, which may be different for each society). Such a case is preferential marriage, that is, marriage with a close relative, such as between the children of a brother and sister (cross cousins). In practice, this translates to a man marrying his mother’s brother’s or father’s sister’s daughter. Such marriages are encountered in Southeast Asia, New Guinea, the Aborigines in Australia, and native South Americans.
Another case of kindred endogamy is the so-called lineage endogamy, that is, the marriage between “relatives” who are beyond the boundaries of kinship (and therefore of incest) set by their society but still maintain a memory of kinship. This is a marriage that, although desirable, is by no means mandatory. Such a marriage is usually performed on a lineage level (hence the term lineage endogamy), that is, within the wider group of individuals beyond the family who are interconnected through consanguineal kinship either patrilinealy or matrilinealy and who acknowledge a common ancestor. It may often result in the women having the same family name before and after marriage (patronymic endogamy), since it usually occurs in patrilineal lineages, where their prime constituents (such as the family name) are transmitted via the father. Such marriages are often arranged at the birth of the future spouses and serve to reinforce “family” ties. They are a very common strategy in Mediterranean societies, for example, in rural France, the Mediterranean Arab societies, and certain societies in Greece, such as the Maniates in west Mani and the Arvanites in Ermionida, both in the Peloponnese. The Arvanites are groups spread across Greece and characterized mainly by their language, Arvanitika, an archaic Albanian dialect they speak in parallel with Greek. The figure records a particular case of lineage endogamy from the village of Didima in Ermionida. The predominant explanation for such a marriage is that it allows for the patrimony to remain in the lineage. If the girls married outside of it, a part of the patrimony would leave the lineage in the form of the dowry.
In other societies, the endogamic rule, according to which, following the death of a spouse, the second husband must be a brother of the first (levirate) or the second wife a sister of the first (sororate), is in place. For example, the mosaic law dictates that should the husband die, the wife must marry his brother. The children born from this marriage are considered to be the dead man’s children. This ensures the continuation of the dead husband’s family.
The rule of kindred endogamy is also applied in the case of fraternal polyandry (the most common form of polyandry, where a woman can simultaneously have more than one husband, provided they are all brothers). In this case, endogamy shows which lineage the children originate from, which would be impossible if the husbands were not brothers.
Tab.1 – Lineage endogamy (Didima, Greece). The marriage of Dina and Yiannis was not only desirable but also allowed, as the forbidding rule of incest extends only to second cousins
Religious endogamy is a universally enforced form of endogamy, according to which the spouses must belong to the same religion. Religious endogamy is especially strong because religion and marriage are intimately intertwined. Marriage is usually validated by a religious ritual, which must be accepted by the spouses; this can only happen when they both embrace the same religion. If this requirement is not fulfilled, the marriage cannot take place.
A particularly strict form of endogamy takes place within the castes in India (i.e., hierarchical groups in which individuals are hereditarily placed for life), as dictated by the Hindu religion.
Local and Ethnic Endogamy
The preservation of the cohesion (and consequently the perpetuation) of the local community (social group the members of which share goods and interests and live together in general), the ethnic group (the group of individuals belonging to the same culture and acknowledging themselves as such), and even of the nation are the main reasons behind the choice of the spouse from within the same local community, ethnic group, or nation. These forms of endogamy are particularly widespread and powerful.
The following saying, used throughout Greece with respect to spouse selection, aptly summarizes the preference toward local endogamy: “[Get] a shoe from your place even if it’s patched,” that is, it is better to choose a local spouse despite his or her shortcomings (implying that selecting a nonlocal spouse may have unpredictable consequences). Thereby, in Didima (Peloponnese), on a local community level and according to marriage records, between 1928 and 1939, 93.7% of grooms and 90.0% of brides were locals. From 1940 to 1988, these percentages continuously fall, reaching 56.7% and 83.6% respectively between 1980 and 1988. This trend shows the gradual decline of the rule of local endogamy.
- Goody, J. (1983). The development of family and marriage in Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Lévi-Strauss, C. (1949). Endogamy et exogamy. In Les structures élémentaires de la parenté (pp. 49-60). Paris: PUF.
- Segalen, M. (1972). Nuptialité et alliance. Le choix du conjoint dans une commune de l’Eure. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose.