Marriage, Family, and Kinship

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Marriage

Among many ethnic groups, first marriages historically were arranged with varying degrees of veto power by the potential bride and groom, but individual choice stressing companionship is becoming more common. Most southern groups prefer exogamous marriage, while the Fulani tend to be endogamous. Polygyny is a goal within many groups but is not always financially attainable. Some women prefer small-scale polygyny for the company and mutual aid a co-wife might provide.

Domestic Unit

Domestic organization varies widely throughout Cameroon. Rural polygamous compounds are composed of a male head of a household surrounded by his wives and their children. Wives and children usually sleep in separate dwellings within the compound. In both urban and rural areas, child-rearing by a close relative (a kind of foster arrangement) is common.

Inheritance

The organization of kinship varies widely, as do local rules of inheritance. The inheritance of land is often separated from that of movable property. The inheritance of wives may serve as a form of old-age insurance for women without grown up children, since marriage provides access to land. Among many groups, traditional titles and honours may be inherited.

Kin Groups

Most northern groups, such as the Fulani, are patrilineal. The kinship organization of most Grassfielders, Bamiléké, and Bamoun is variously described as patrilineal or dual descent. The Kom of the Grassfields are a notable matrilineal exception. Most forest peoples are patrilineal.