Berbers of Morocco - Marriage and Family

Marriage. In the Rif, unlike the practice in certain other Berber-speaking areas, parallel-cousin marriage with the father's brother's daughter was permitted, although not highly regarded. These marriages accounted for 12 percent of a total of 1,625 marriages recorded between 1953 and 1955 among the Aith Waryaghar (3 percent true father's brother's daughter marriages and 9 percent classificatory—that is, not with true father's brother's daughter, but within the lineage). By far the most common form was local-lineage exogamy—marriages between lineages within the same tribal section—at 54 percent, whereas marriages between spouses of different sections accounted for 22 percent, and marriages with spouses of other tribes (both male and female) amounted again to 12 percent. Polygynous marriages accounted for 11 percent of the total (with each co-wife having her separate dwelling or household), secondary or successive marriages for 5 percent, and 3 percent of marriages terminated in divorce. There was a high rate of widow inheritance (as opposed to levirate) at 5 percent, but sororate, although permitted, accounted for only 0.8 percent. Marriage by exchange of sisters accounted for 2.5 percent, as did two brothers marrying two sisters; 20 percent of all marriages—whether endogamous or exogamous—were between individuals of different generations, even though they may have been of nearly equivalent ages (Hart 1976, 217-229).

Among the Imazighen of south-central Morocco, parallel-cousin marriage with the father's brother's daughter is strongly favored, but among the Ait 'Atta of Usikis on the south-central slope of the Atlas, it accounted for only 17 percent of 313 marriages recorded between 1961 and 1962 (of which only 3 percent were with true father's brother's daughter and 14 percent were with the classificatory father's brother's daughter, within the lineage). Lineage exogamy within the section accounted for 42 percent, intersectional marriages within the community of Usikis for 39 percent, and extracommunity or extratribal marriages for only 2 percent. Plural marriages accounted for 9 percent of the total, secondary or successive ones for 4 percent. Three percent of marriages ended in divorce; the rate of widow inheritance was 3 percent and that of the sororate only 1 percent. Of all marriages, endogamous or exogamous, 10 percent were cross-generational (Hart 1981, 148-151, 251-253).

Bride-wealth or bride-price is heavy in the Rif but minimal in the Imazighen region. Normally only a husband can initiate divorce (except in cases of impotency). Bride-wealth is generally returned in such cases, but children remain with their fathers. Childlessness is a normal cause for divorce.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family (Rifian: nubth [lit., "turn"; pl. nubath ]; Tharifith: tashat [lit., "hearth"]) of father, mother, and unmarried children constitutes the domestic unit, all of whose members eat together when guests are not present, but—owing to the prevalence of male labor migration to Europe—women are now often de facto heads of rural households.

Inheritance. Land is inherited patrilaterally (see "Land Tenure"). Although the Sharia stipulates that, for purposes of inheritance, one son equals two daughters, with one-eighth subtracted at a man's death for his widow, in areas like the Imazighen region, where customary law prevailed until independence, daughters generally got nothing and tended rather to be inherited by their fathers' brothers, in order to be married off to the latters' sons.

Socialization. Under maternal and grandparental supervision, all Berber communities are characterized by a high degree of sibling caretaking, with elder siblings taking care of younger ones while their mothers do household work. Grandparents and grandchildren are close, but sex segregation begins when boys and girls reach 6 or 7 years of age and start to herd goats. By the time they reach puberty, which traditionally is not long before the age to marry, it is fully ingrained.

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