Bretons - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Kinship. Lineage is traced cognatically, but the naming system is patronymic. Women used to retain their patronyms after marriage, a practice that has been largely supplanted in this century by the French vironymic system. Fictive kinship in the form of godparent-godchild relations was a very important part of the social fabric for a long time; often the godparent would in fact be real kin—an unmarried aunt or uncle, for example. The extended family—consisting of three generations and often collateral kinfolk—was the basic social unit in the countryside, but this has been broken up through the emigration of rural families to the cities or to other regions of France. Nuclear families are now in general the rule.

Marriage. The marriage ceremony remains an important celebration for the individual and the family, and most couples choose to have both the civil and the church ceremonies performed (only the former is strictly necessary). In traditional rural Brittany marriages were the occasion for dayslong revelry, with hundreds of people invited to partake in the feasting and games. It was not unusual for multiple marriages to take place—that is, two or more sisters would marry two or more brothers. The levirate was also practiced. Postmarital residence could be either uxori- or virolocal; nowadays it is chiefly neolocal. Young couples tend to have their children early in the marriage. Through birth control practices, couples can limit the size of their families to the desired two or three children (in contrast with past generations of couples who were pressured by the church to produce as many off-spring as possible). Divorce is fully legal but still stigmatized.

Domestic Unit. The basic unit is now the nuclear family, though this may expand as needed to accommodate elderly or invalid relatives.

Inheritance. Bilateral partible inheritance has long been customary in Brittany, though generally only one child would inherit the farm (whether it was the oldest or the youngest varied locally). The remaining siblings were recompensed with other property or goods. The female's equal right of inheritance has, through the centuries, been one of the distinctive features of Breton culture vis-à-vis the French (and other non-Celtic Europeans).

Socialization. Although corporal punishment of children is not unknown, Bretons have for long relied on verbal admonishment and instruction through a rich repertoire of proverbs and aphorisms. Appeal to Christian models of behavior and, in earlier days, the inculcation of a fear of hell and the wrath of God were also regularly deployed in the socialization process.


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