Afro-Colombians - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Characteristic of Black people all over Colombia (and not unique to them) is a flexible kinship network in which individuals and families activate links within a loosely defined kindred, often simply termed familia, in order to get access to goods and services, and to facilitate migration (see "Economy"). Classificatory categories such as primo, "cousin," or tía, "aunt," group together a large number of relatives. An individual may have more than one partner, often in unión libre, informal union, during the course of his or her life, giving rise to many half-sibling relations. In the Pacific region, this has been characterized as "serial polygyny," as a man contracts temporally overlapping relations with successive women. Some men have simultaneous polygynous relations, in which the women have roughly equal social status. In the Caribbean region, it is not unusual for a man to have a mujer de asiento, principal wife, perhaps legally married, and a querida, or lover. These patterns may give rise to matrifocal households because women retain children in a household with which successive male partners form links; her female children may then have children but remain in their mother's house. In census material, these patterns are reflected in high rates of unión libre, single motherhood, and illegitimacy for areas where Black populations are concentrated. The interpretation of these forms is subject to debate, with some scholars adducing African influences, others the destructive effects of slavery, and still others the impact of economic marginality over centuries, leading to constant male mobility, for example.

Ritual kinship is also important, with individuals forming ties of compadrazgo both with relatives of equal status to themselves and, more rarely, with people of higher status. The latter form is more common in the Caribbean region.

In the Pacific region, inheritance is from one spouse to the other and then to their children. Houses and personal possessions are passed on at death, but land (or at least the right to work land) is passed on when children reach puberty. Data on inheritance in other regions are unfortunately very scarce.

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