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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Dr Malcolm T. Smith

Hampshire, K. R. & Smith, M. T. (2001). Consanguineous marriage among the Fulani. Human Biology 73(4): 597-603.

Author(s) from Durham


The Fulani are a broad ethnic category of nomadic and seminomadic pastoralists and agropastoralists living in the semiarid Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa. The Fulani are patrilineal, patrilocal, and moderately polygynous, with arranged first marriages accompanied by the payment of bridewealth, ideally in the form of cattle. Consanguineous marriage is frequent, with first or second cousin marriage preferred. In this paper we present data on levels of consanguineous marriage among the Fulani of northern Burkina Faso and test the hypothesis that inbreeding may be more frequent when there is a scarcity of cattle available, since bridewealth demands are thought to be reduced with close-kin marriage. Among 308 women's marriages, 203 (65.8%) were between kin up to and including second cousins, and 102 (33.1%) were between nonkin. Among 276 men's marriages, 196 (71.0%) were between kin up to and including second cousins, and 77 (27.9%) were between nonkin. The mean population inbreeding coefficient (a) was 0.0355 for women, and 0.0374 for men. No increase was found in population levels of inbreeding estimated from marriages contracted after the droughts of 1973 and 1984, which drastically reduced the Fulani's cattle stocks. However, a significantly higher rate of consanguineous marriage was found in families owning the fewest cattle.