Matrilateral Cross Cousin Marriage

An exchange system based upon matrilateral cross cousin marriage assumes an initial arrangement of marriages among lineages. The diagram below traces the marriages and memberships of four couples according to four patrilineages (A-D). At this point no cousin rule is applied.

Marriages in the Initial Generation.


The cross-cousin marriage rule is first applied in the second generation. A man is expected to marry his mother's brother's daughter, his matrilateral cross cousin. If this rule is applied consistently to everyone, the pattern of lineage intermarriage established in the previous generation is duplicated exactly. Ego, a man from lineage B marries a woman from lineage A, a repetition of the marriage of Ego's father and mother. This pattern is repeated for all the other lineages in the same manner.

Marriages in the Second Generation.

The application of the same cross-cousin rule in the next generation continues the circulation of women into the same lineages as in the previous two.

Marriages in the Third Generation.

While the above diagrams trace the patterns of exchange between patrilineal groups linked by cross cousin marriages, it is also possible for matrilineages to develop the same system, as indicated in the next diagram.

Marriage Exchanges among Matrilineal Groups.

Where a system of bilateral cross cousin marriage results in exchange and alliances between paired lineages, matrilateral cross cousin marriage can unite any given number of lineages in a continuous pattern of circular exchanges. The unity achieved is based on indirect linkages. Although each lineage is tied to only two others, one in the role of wife giver and the other as wife taker, it is thereby connected to all the others in the system since wife givers receive wives from the previous link in the chain and wife takers in turn provide wives to the next group in the other direction to eventually form a circle. Because of the cycling of marriages through the system of matrilateral exchanges, this system is sometimes termed circulating connubium.

Circular Patterning of Matrilateral Cross-Cousin Marriage

© Brian Schwimmer, All rights reserved
Department of Anthropology
University of Manitoba
Created 1995
Last updated: September 2003