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What is Exogamy

Updated on September 9, 2012


The social rule that one must marry someone from outside one's own group is called exogamy. Exogamy is a rule that requires an individual to marry outside of a culturally defined group of which he or she is a member.

All societies prohibit marriages between individuals of the same group because they consider that members of the same group are brothers and sisters. For this reason they stipulate that an individual must seek a wife not from his own group but from another group. This especially there with regard to descent groups. Each descent group is a collectivity of people who arose from a common ancestor. Thus exogamy favors marriage outside one's own group. It is culture which decides the exact limits of one's own group.

Forms of Exogamy

Village exogamy: it is prevalent in North India. Members of the same village do not intermarry. People of a village consider themselves as brothers and sisters. Therefore, people of one village take bride from another village. For example, in Rani Khera a village in Aligarh District of uttar Pradesh, 266 married women had come from about 200 different villages averaging between twelve and twenty-four miles away; 220 local women had gone to 200 other villages to marry. as a result of these exogamous marriages, Rani Khera, a village of 150 households, was linked to 400 other nearby villages.

Lineage exogamy: Several tribes besides Hindus and Chinese practice lineage exogamy. Members of the same lineage are brothers and sisters, hence avoid marriages.

Clan exogamy: There are several tribes which practice clan exogamy. They consider a clan as a kin group whose members are brothers and sisters. The Muria Gonds of Chattisgarh and the Murngin of Australia, for example, practice clan exogamy.

Moiety Exogamy: For example, the Korkus of Madhya Pradesh have moieties namely Raj and Pallari which are exogamous. Likewise, the Bondos of orissa have two moieties namely Ontal (cobra) and Killo (tiger) which are exogamous. The Tlingit Red Indians in North America have two moieties the Ravan and the Wolf which are exogamous.

Restricted or differentiated exogamy: In this, marriage is forbidden within certain kin, while at the same time it is preferred or required as the case may be, with other relatives who are not culturally defined as blood relatives. These persons are almost always cross-cousins.

Simple or undifferentiated exogamy: when the prohibition against marrying kin people is applied to all known genetic relatives, simple or undifferentiated exogamy occurs. It exists among the Europeans and the whites in America.

Origin of Exogamy

  • Edward Burnet Tylor argued that Palaeolithic hunting and gathering bands in all probability exchanged women in order to live at peace with each other. They might have entered into a system of marital exchange between bands. This arrangement was a positive outcome of need for survival. That means, early human populations practiced exogamy in order to live at peace with them and exogamy continued as a custom since those early times.
  • Herbert Hope Risley proposed that probably humans had a desire to have variety in their life. This desire might have influenced human beings to seek marital ties with strangers, unfamiliar and unknown to them. As a result exogamy had come into existence.
  • Edward westermarck asserted that children growing in the same village may not have sexual attraction for each other. Familiarity breeds contempt. Such an aversion for the familiar may be responsible for the origin and continuity of exogamy.
  • Emile Durkheim said that primitive belief about blood and life gave rise to incest taboo and exogamy. According to him primitive believed that loss of blood leads to loss of life. Since sexual relations initially involve some loss of blood, early humans had avoided close relatives for sex congress. This resulted in seeking the women for marriage from other groups and the emergence of exogamy.

Advantages of Exogamy

  1. In societies in which exogamy creates ties between the families of a married pair, these ties can serve subsistence, political, legal, economic, and social functions, to the mutual benefit of everyone concerned.
  2. One common obligation of the groups involved in exogamy is to provide affines with subsistence necessities. For example, gifts of food might be required at the time of a marriage, a birth, a death, or other occasions the custom can be highly functional, if one affinal group has suffered a poor harvest region its partner group living in another region has not, gifts of food may tide the hungry group over its period of famine.
  3. Exogamy favours mutual political support between the groups concerned to their mutual advantage.
  4. Exogamy influences the affines to perform essential ritual services for one another. Among the Rindi of eastern Indonesia, wife-givers are considered the source of life and spiritual well-being. A man with a long-term illness may move into the house of one of his clan's wife-givers, place himself symbolically under the spiritual protection of the ancestor of the wife-given, and stay there until he recovers. By contrast, wife-takers are associated with death. if someone dies away from home, his clan's wife-taker may be called upon to transport the corpse. These customs show how exogamy, alliance, descent, religion and symbols came together in a thoroughly holistic way in Rindi society.
  5. Exogamy also favours the groups involved in matters of mutual defense. Among the Tetum of Indonesia, the affines have an obligation to offer mutual assistance when they face attacks by enemy. Exogamy and the resultant affinal alliances are very important. Due to modernization they may break down. The consequences can be as extreme as they are unexpected. For example, the tribes in New Guinea Highlands used stone axes for various purposes. Christian missionaries extended the area and started proselytizing activities. The missionaries introduced steel axes in the place of stone axes. Before the missionaries entered the area, the tribes used to pick up suitable stones and prepare the stone axes. They distributed the stone axes through inter-regional trade. At the same time, inter-tribal marriages created affinal links that tribal marriages created affinal links that made trade easier between these groups. But after steel axes were introduced from the missionaries, local production of stone axes ceased. As trade declined, so did the opportunity to contract marriages and create affinal alliances between tribes. Eventually, as older people died and fewer marriages were arranged between tribes, the network of affinal ties decayed, and conflict and full-scale warfare increased.


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    • profile image

      Clara Mwape 

      5 years ago

      Its a beautiful article.It has enlightened me a lot.What are the disAdvantages


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      It was so informative, i belive it wil go a long way in the society

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      So far, you did not give a definate and certain origin of exogamy.

      if endogamy had been practiced and human had been existing all the while, and better off for that matter, why would mankind now choose to prefer exogamy?

    • profile image

      Allen mdulla 

      7 years ago

      it is very good articles that base and touch some heart of people who are not understand the concept of exogamy. But what are the disadvantages of exogamy?

    • dialogue profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you Nellieanna for reading my hub and commenting.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      Of course, one expects people to marry outside their related group, but I never knew this background of the practice, nor the extent to which it is applied to assure there will be no interbreeding which could result in greater likelihood of negative traits in offspring. Very interesting and informative.

    • d.william profile image


      7 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      Interesting hub. Although there may be many reasons for marrying outside your lineage as you state, the most definite reasoning for doing it is that inter - marrying produces abnormal offspring: physical deformities and mental disorders from inbreeding.

      voted, up, awesome and interesting.

    • Dumbledore profile image

      This Old Guy 

      7 years ago from Somewhere in Ohio

      Very interresting.


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