Ancestry and Kinship: Rules of Residency

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Ancestry and Kinship: Rules of Residency

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Matrilocality. Residency patterns were often determined by rules of descent. In a matrilocal setting, usually in matrilineal society, the newly married couple set up residency in the bride’s mother’s compound. A girl born in a matrilocal setting took the name of the living matriarch or a maternal aunt. A boy would normally take the name of the matriarch’s uncle or living brother.

Patrilocality. In most patrilineal groups, once a woman was married, she was obligated to move to her husband’s father’s compound, where the couple resided until they were able, or willing, to set up their own home. Usually, the young wife lived among the other women, and the oldest female in the compound exercised marital authority. Younger wives were placed under the control of this matriarch, or several senior wives, who established sleeping arrangements and assigned chores within the extended household. In some cases the young husband continued to live in his father’s hut or compound until his father passed away. Then the eldest son, who was next in line to inherit the property, determined whether his other brothers and wives should continue their residency or not. In polygynous families (those in which the husband had more than one wife), a widowed woman could not marry another man in her husband’s family and was, by agreement, required to take residency in her father’s compound.

Neolocality. Neolocality is the practice by which a newly married couple sets up their own residence away from both sets of parents. In West Africa this practice is usually a feature of modernization and the rapid uprooting of people from traditional family settings. During the years 500-1590 this residency pattern occurred in urban centers, and it was common among nomadic tribes, where newlyweds built their own hut on the outskirts of the main compound of the head of the clan.

Sources

Paul Bohannan and Philip Curtin, Africa and Africans, fourth edition (Prospect Heights, III.: Waveland Press, 1995).

William Fagg, Divine Kingship in Africa (London: British Museum, 1970).

Jack Goody, “Bridewealth and Dowry in Africa and Eurasia,” in Bridewealth and Dowry, by Goody and S. J. Tambiah (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 1-58.

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Ancestry and Kinship: Rules of Residency

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