Can you marry your cousin? Your culture flavors the way you view the world, even though you may just assume that some things are a given.
Since there are only a couple of hundred Maki people on our river, everyone is somehow related. There are two couples in our village who we once concluded were married to their cousins. This happened because someone said that the dad of the one spouse was the brother of the other member’s mom. Maybe it’s difficult to follow this. Trying to think about kinship always ties my head in knots and quickly tires out my brain.
Getting back to the cousin-marrying couples, it turns out that their parents aren’t actually siblings. How can that be? It is because they use the same kinship terms for their siblings and their parallel cousins. What is a parallel cousin? I think it is easier to understand if you imagine the members of your own family. Think of your dad’s brother. In English, you call him your uncle and his children you call your cousins. But if you were Maki, you would call them your brothers and sisters.
The same would be true of your mother’s sister’s children. In summary, the parents of the aforementioned couples were actually a more distant relationship than a sibling. The parents are probably parallel cousins of each other, which means the younger couples are probably second cousins to each other. To understand second cousins, think of your cousin. If you both have children, your children and their children are second cousins.
One last interesting fact is that the Maki use different terms when talking about their cross cousins and cross uncles and aunts. What do I mean by cross? No, I don’t mean grumpy. Cross and parallel are in reference to the genders of the siblings. Your mother’s brother would be your cross uncle and your father’s sister would be your cross aunt. So they call their cross cousins a different term than they call their siblings and parallel cousins. Incidentally, they apply the cross terms to in-laws as well. Your father-in-law is your cross uncle, etc.
So maybe you are wondering why it matters. We need to understand their culture and way of thinking as much as we can. Also, in order to accurately translate the Bible one day, we will need to understand their kinship terms. For instance, what was Jesus’ mother Mary’s relationship to Elizabeth? Her parallel cousin or cross cousin? In Maki, there is no neutral way to say it, but in other languages (for example, English and Portuguese), there is no need to differentiate.
So this holiday season, while you are at a family gathering, you can consider the fact that other cultures see things differently. If the Maki saw you go out down a tree and bring it in our house to decorate it, they would conclude we are truly nuts.