Highland Scots - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Kin Groups and Descent. While descent is bilateral, there is an emphasis upon patrilateral kin in actual practice. The household is the organizational unit of descent and consists of an unbroken line of males.

Kinship Terminology. Kinship terminology differs Depending on whether English or Gaelic is used. Gaelic has fewer terms than English (e.g., English "uncle" is "mother's brother" in Gaelic). Naming of children usually follows the tradition of "turn and turn about": one spouse chooses a name for one child; the other spouse selects the name of the next child.

Marriage. The selection of spouses depends upon demographic possibilities and economic conditions. Where there are inheritance considerations, marriages are often postponed until the person is over the age of 30 or until after the death of parents. Marriages are sometimes postponed if there is a shortage of housing. If women have migrated from an area, the remaining men may face a shortage of eligible women that necessitates their going outside the community for wives. The overall pattern seems to be a shift from Community endogamy to exogamy. There are few reports on nuptial rituals. However, one study reported that wedding gifts tend to be lavish and are publicly displayed. Weddings are usually held in hotels, and guests are transported to the Wedding and the postnuptial celebration by bus.

Domestic Unit. The household is the organizational unit of kinship, and much of crofting life can be understood in reference to problems related to the formation of households. Spinsters, for example, are explained as those reluctant to give away inherited property and the power associated with that property when they marry. Property is a consideration prior to marriage, especially among crofters where extended families may occupy the croft. Under these conditions, the person who moves into the croft of their spouse is subservient to the spouse's parents until they die. In noncroft settings the pattern is neolocality. Regardless of the economic base, the function of marriage is to produce children, and the Household is established for this purpose.

Family. The boundaries of "family" are determined by propinquity. Kin living nearby are included as family; those who have moved away, even if they are closer kin, are not. The household is the smallest unit with which one identifies and through which one is identified. The attributes of the male head of the household characterize all members of that household. Thus, if the male is viewed as clever, all members of the household are viewed as clever. The household consists of the male head, his wife, their children, and, if only daughters, the eldest's husband. Adult siblings have equal rights to remain in the household, but each is expected to contribute to the household. Outside the household, emotions are rarely publicly expressed. However, members of the household engage in intimate joking relationships. The structure of the household can produce conflict. In disputes between wife and mother, husband is expected to support his wife. In Households where there is a wife and sister-in-law and the wife is the female head of house by virtue of her marriage, the sister-inlaw may feel proprietary rights because she was a member of the household first. Beyond the household are more inclusive identifiers. From less to more inclusive are the household, the croft, the township, the glen (demarcated by a steep hill dividing townships), and the parish.

Inheritance. In croft systems, propinquity and sex are determinates of inheritance. The eldest and remaining son Usually inherits the croft. When there is only a daughter, her husband becomes the head of the household after his fatherin-law dies, and his sons will inherit.


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