Orcadians - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Kin Groups and Descent. An unfocused variety of cognatic descent is characteristic of the rural areas of Orkney. Within the rural localities, most people are related to each other. Precise kin ties beyond that of first cousin are of little importance. However, people will invoke kinship in order to justify their relations to each other. The older patterns of local endogamy are breaking down as young people who board in Kirkwall to attend secondary school meet Individuals from other areas.

Kinship Terminology. Orkney kinship terms follow similar bifurcate-merging patterns in Scotland and the British Isles in general. Relationships to both sides of the family receive equal stress.

Marriage. Weddings have always been an important aspect of social life, especially in the rural farming areas. Local endogamy is common. In the past, young men often delayed marriage for years because of poverty. They would go to Scotland, England, Canada, etc. to earn enough money before Returning to marry and settle down. Prior to the formal wedding, announcements and visits took place between the two families. For most people, a marriage was socially valid only if it was performed by a minister in a church. Thursday was considered a lucky day for a wedding. The divorce rate is very low.

Domestic Unit. The basic domestic unit is the nuclear family with neolocal residence. However, on the smaller Islands, the housing shortage often forces a young couple to live for varying lengths of time in either his or her parental home. When a house becomes available, they leave.

Inheritance. Today, the farm or the inherited use of farmlands will usually go to one chosen child. Movable property will be passed on to various children. In some cases, land can now be sold to other islanders or even outsiders.

Socialization. The care and training of children was done by the mother, older siblings, and grandmother. In the past, much of this was done in the context of storytelling and rhyme. Homemade wooden toys—especially boats, domestic animals, and windmills—were common. Some villages had schools by the mid-eighteenth century. In 1971, there were twenty-nine local primary schools; only Kirkwall and Stromness had secondary schools. Children from the outer islands who attend secondary schools are boarded in Kirkwall.


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