Exogamy is a general rule of marriage. When a person marries outside a specific social group of which he is a member, it is exogamy. In other words, a marriage outside the lineage group is exogamy.
A lineage is a descent group either from the father’s or mother’s line which traces its origin from a common ancestor. In such a situation it becomes interesting to differentiate between the close kin and the descent or lineage. Certainly, the size of the group of close kin is smaller.
Normally, it consists of father, children and siblings. Beyond this small group there is a larger group which consists of descent and lineage groups. According to the rules of exogamy one is not allowed to marry within the lineage and descent group. Marriage outside this group is exogamy.
Among the tribals too there are clans. A clan is a lineage group. A Gond, for instance, is not allowed to marry within his own clan. The Bhils of western India have about forty clans.
Normally, a tribal village consists of one or two clans. In this situation all the members of the village are ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. Because of this there is the practice of village exogamy according to which a tribal would not prefer to marry within his own village.
Westermarck has provided yet another interpretation for exogamy through an anecdote. Once, when his barber had come to his house, Westermarck enquired from him, “Are you married?” “No”, the barber replied. Westermarck suggested that he could have married in his village.
There were enough girls. To this the barber commented: “Oh, the girls of my village are good for nothing; I know them all.” The statement made by barber shows that it is the instinct of man to look for a girl who generates curiosity. Such a man is considered heroic who brings a girl from great distances.
Such kinds of male attitudes also explain the prevalence of exogamy. Westermarck gives yet another empirical evidence to support the practice of exogamy. In London, there are two schools situated on either the sides of a road.
One school has co-education while the other one is exclusively for girls. He found that the boys of the co-education school often went to the girl’s school in search of love and romance.
When they were reminded that there were girls in their own class and they could very well take a fiancee for them, the boys replied: “The girls of our school! We know them all; they are rotten.” And hence exogamy.
In endogamy a member is required to marry within his own group. Lewis defines endogamy as follows:
The rule that requires a person to marry within a specific social group of which he is a member.
In the Indian context, the caste is defined as an endogamous group just as the Gonds are a tribe. The Gonds marry within the Gond tribe. Thus, Gond is an endogamous group. Brahmin would not marry a Rajput. In the same way, a Gond would not marry a Santhal.
However, there are cases of inter-caste and inter-tribal marriages, though such marriages are not the revile. Where the society is stratified on class lines, a member would marry within his own class. In this sense membership class is endogamous. Eriksen writes:
In a sense, all humors groups are both endogamous and exogamous to varying degrees. One is expected to marry “one’s” own kind, but not someone classified as a close relative.
Who is a close relative and who is not is naturally culturally specified, although the people classified as parents, children and siblings in Europe are virtually everywhere seen as close kin.