Falasha - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Kinship. Although not organized in larger entities like corporative descent groups, lineages, or clans, the Falasha lived in a kinship universe where the nuclear family ( beteseb ) was the basic unit. In most respects, the Falasha resemble the Amhara-Tigray among whom they lived. Their kinship terminology is also that of the Amhara and the Tigray, an Eskimo-type bilateral terminology. As the Falasha in general did not own land, lineal-descent consciousness is less important among them than among the Amhara-Tigray, who often appealed to ambilineal descent lines to claim their rights to a particular piece of land. It is, therefore, impossible to speak of "lineages" among the Falasha, as among the Amhara. They have extensive knowledge of wider family ties—and thus of who is a Falasha/Beta Esráel. There are no fictive-kin relationships among them, although informal "adoption" is common.

Marriage. The Falasha traditionally showed group endogamy. Marrying a Christian—although not an infrequent occurrence—was actively discouraged because of traditionally strong religious boundaries in matters of food taboos, ritual purity, and so forth. The Falasha, like the Amhara, say they do not marry relatives "within the seventh degree." The marriageable age for girls ranges from 14 to 20, for boys from 18 to 28—another similarity with the Amhara-Tigray. Great value was attached to virginity: traditionally, a bride who was not a virgin on her wedding day could be returned to her parents and might be cast out from the community. Nowadays these rules have changed. Also, girls have demanded the right to choose their own partners, instead of following their parents' preference. There is also a tendency to delay the age of marriage. The rate of divorce is relatively high, and almost all adults marry more than once. (This pattern shows little change in Israel.) Settlement after marriage has been basically neolocal, depending on the preference of the male; however, most married couples remain in the village of the husband's parents for the first years after marriage.

Domestic Unit. The basic domestic unit is the nuclear family (the Falasha being monogamous)—the unit of production and consumption. Parents or married brothers and sisters may live in the same village, in separate compounds. There is mutual assistance between kin-related units, but one cannot speak of extended families in the accepted sense of the word. Widows or widowers often go to live with the eldest married son.

Inheritance. As there are few things to inherit—some cattle, utensils, tools, jewelry—there are no clearly defined rules of inheritance. If, in the "feudal" past, a family had rist (land-use) rights, these were transferred to the oldest son. Cash or personal belongings of the deceased would be divided among the surviving spouse and children in mutual agreement.

Socialization. In rural Ethiopian society, elder persons were respected and obeyed. Children are directed by their parents, grandparents, and village leaders. Agricultural and other skills are learned by imitation. Children, depending upon their age, are assigned specific tasks, such as herding animals, fetching wood and water, or guarding crops. Corporal punishment was an accepted means of disciplining and enforcing obedience. Primary-school education (common in most villages after the Revolution) has given the children more leverage (i.e., has led to a more "autonomous" attitude toward their seniors).


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