Martiniquais - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kin Groups and Descent. On Martinique, the system of kinship is bilateral, and informal adoption of children by relatives or close friends is fairly common. The only social group with rigid rules of kinship, marriage, and social affiliation is the Béké population; however, many East Indians also prefer to marry endogamously.

Marriage. Traditionally, marriage was reserved for later in life, after the couple had successfully raised children, but today the situation is changing. The elite, for whom marriage prior to having children was the norm, have become the current model, leading a trend to marry early. In contrast to the commonly mixed marriages among other population segments in Martinique, Békés still carefully guard their aristocratic origins by continuing to practice endogamy. Their insistence on marrying only members of other Béké families has helped them maintain control of most arable land and economic power in Martinique.

Domestic Unit. In Martinique, household units may involve one-, two-, or three-generation family members, with or without a conjugal couple at the center of the group. The membership of a household is variable according to the group's resources and needs at the time. Neither nuclear families nor extended-family arrangements are the norm, but these represent possible units among a range of other, equally suitable groupings. Approximately one in three households is "female-headed," a pattern occurring mostly among lower-income and younger people.

Socialization. Martiniquais children are considered a cultural treasure and represent an important source of status for parents, irrespective of socioeconomic level. Thus, children are indulged, and even parents with the most meager resources find it important to dress their children in smart, modern clothes.

Fewer than 40 percent of the population over 15 years of age holds any kind of school degree. As jobs become even scarcer, however, there is an increasing recognition that education is the key to social mobility and professional success. Enrollment in the island's only university remains modest because only programs in law and economics are offered. Those wishing to study other subjects generally attend college in France.

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