Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Incest, Endogamy, and Issues of Consanguineous Marriages

A group of students in Manila doing a research on incest in the Philippines recently communicated with me asking me to contribute any information I had on cases of cousin marriages that I have encountered in my genealogical work. I was particularly interested to assist them because it dawned on me when I got the email that in the years I have been writing about genealogy I have not really written extensively on cases of incest, though in my opinion I prefer the term consanguineous relations or marriage or even endogamy because these are more sanitized and less loaded terms. Thus, this article will serve two purposes: one, it is to explore and consolidate cases of cousin marriages in Philippine society and, two, it is to serve as my contribution to the study of these students who requested for my help.

The practice of marriage between relatives is something old and common in all cultures of the world. The taboo then and now is not necessarily attached to the idea of marrying a relative, per se. Rather, the clear disdain that people attach to consanguineous relationships or marriages is when two very close relatives have a sexual relationship that produce an offspring. This refers to relations such as father to daughter, son to mother, brother and sister, uncle to niece, aunt to nephew, or grandparent to a grandchild. These relationships have always been frowned upon by MOST cultures. The term incest itself is a clear description of how the people of the past felt about these relationships. It is derived from the Latin incestum which connotes impurity, unchastity, defilement, and pollution.  Other nations have similar if not harsher connotations for the term. Among the Chinese they used the term luan lun, which meant disorder and social relationship. The Indonesians use the term sumbang which means improper and repugnant. This gives us a clear idea of what most cultures thought of the idea of incest.

However, not all cultures viewed incest in a negative way. In Ancient Greece even their Gods and Goddesses practiced incest; Zeus certainly married his own sister Hera and had children with his other sisters. Other similar relationships were practiced by the other deities in the Greek pantheon, which gives us an idea of how the ancient Greeks viewed the practice. In the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions incest was obviously the only viable explanation for the first men and women on earth after God created the world. According to the Book of Jubilees, written by a Pharisee in 109 B.C., the first cases of incest happened in the family of Adam and Eve.

Other than the sons Cain, Abel, and Seth, Adam and Eve also had daughters Awan and Azura plus nine other sons. Further, Cain married his sister Awan and Seth married his sister Azura. Seth’s and Azura’s son and daughter, Enos and Noam, also married each other while their own son and daughter, Kenan and Mualeleth, also married one another. It was only in the next generation with Kenan’s son Mahalalel that the incest became slightly less closer. He married Dinah, a daughter of Kenan’s brother Barakiel, thus making them first cousins. This practice was repeated in each generation until reaching Noah who married his own first cousin once removed Emzara, whose mother Rake’el was the daughter of a brother of Noah’s father. Even the famous Abraham and his wife Sara were half-siblings, coming from the same father but from different mothers.

Whether these were actual marriages or not it cannot be denied that most ancient cultures practiced endogamy, or marriage within the tribe or clan. For one thing, this was expected as there were very few people in the world at that time and thus their choice for a mate was extremely limited. Second, many ancient cultures also associated religious beliefs in their marital practices.  As described in Anne Rice’s book Queen of the Damned, “amongst many ancient peoples the royal blood went only through the female line. Since no male can ever be certain of the paternity of his wife's child, it was the Queen or the Princess who brought with her the divine right to the throne. This is why Egyptian pharaohs of a later age often married their sisters. It was to secure their royal right.” This was particularly true with the last dynasty of Egypt, the Ptolemies, where at least 15 cases of inbreeding were documented.

Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, declared himself Pharaoh of Egypt. The first documented incest in the dynasty was between Ptolemy’s daughter, Arsinoe II, who first married her half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos. Later, she married her full brother, Ptolemy II Philadelphos. The last ruler in the dynasty was the famed Cleopatra VII, who married her brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. After her death the dynasty came to an end. Of course, the case of the Ptolemies was not necessarily duplicated in other ancient cultures. In most other cultures the closest consanguineous marriages were between first cousins.

Consanguineous marriages are not limited to other countries. As seen in our history many personalities also practiced inbreeding of varying degrees. The families of Lakandula, Matanda,and Soliman practiced consanguineous marriages which were encouraged by their exclusivity as a select group of native principales. Of course, these three rulers also practiced family marriages. For instance, Rajah Muhammad Matanda and his wife were first cousins, both being the grandchildren of Sultan Bolkiah Shah of Brunei.

Then there was the case of Jose Rizal and his great love Leonor Rivera. The two have always been described as cousins though nothing documented exactly how there were related. Although some books have written that the relationship was through the Mercado and Rizal lines others have postulated that in fact the relationship was through Leonor’s mother’s side of the family. Of course, Rizal and Rivera were never married. However, a first cousin marriage did occur in the Rizal family with the marriage of Emiliana Rizal and Antonio Rizal Lopez, who were first cousins. Emiliana was the illegitimate daughter of Paciano Rizal with Severina Decena while Antonio was the son of Paciano’s sister Narcisa and Antonino Lopez.

Among our presidents several consanguineous marriages have also been documented. President Manuel L. Quezonmarried his first cousin Aurora Antonia Aragon; their mothers, MarĂ­a Dolores Molina and Zeneida Molina, were the daughters of Jose de Esparragosa Urbina and Brigida Molina. 

Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr.’s parents, Benigno S. Aquino, Sr. and Aurora Aquino Aquino, were related, albeit already third cousins. Benigno Sr.'s great-grandfather, Hilario Aquino, was the brother of Aurora's great-grandfather. 

DILG Secretary Mar Roxas's maternal grandparents, Jose Amado Araneta and Ester Araneta, were fourth cousins, sharing a common descent from Don Vicente Araneta y Sta. Ana.

Perhaps the most recent case of consanguineous marriage between personalities was between former Presidential son Juan Miguel “Mikey” Macapagal Arroyo and Angela Arroyo Montenegro. Mikey’s father, former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Tuason Arroyo and Angela’s mother, Charito Rosario Arroyo, are first cousins and grandchildren of former Senator Jose Maria Pidal Arroyo. Second cousins marrying each other seems to be a tradition among the Montenegros as Angela’s father Herman Montenegro’s father and mother were also second cousins.

In the modern world, laws have been enacted and cultural taboos attached to the practice of marrying or having relations with very close relatives. One necessary basic knowledge for genealogists to have is on the terms used in describing relationships between and among members in a family.

The first relationship terms are pretty straightforward: starting from ourselves, we call those above us our ancestors; beginning with mother and father (parents), grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. Going down we call these people are descendants; beginning with our sons and daughters (children), grandchildren, great-grandchild, etc. Going sideways we call these people our siblings (brother or sister).

Of course we have the siblings of parents, who we call aunts and uncles and if going further up we just add the word “great” before aunt and uncle, and another one for every generation going up. The sons and daughters of these uncles and aunts are called cousins.

In order to distinguish between allowable and prohibited marriages most nations have established the basic laws of consanguinity where varying degrees of relationship define who one can marry. The concept of degrees of relationship – identifying how many degrees you are related to another person – can best be visualized by counting your familial connection to somebody.

For example: to know how many degrees related you are to your parents, you just need to count from yourself then go up one step, thus reaching your parents, making them your first degree relatives. To know your relation to your first cousin, for example, you have to go up to your parents first (1st degree), then up to your grandparents (2nd degree), then down to your aunt or uncle (3rd degree), until reaching your first cousins, who are your 4th degree relatives. See the chart below for better understanding:

So this means that while you call your first cousin your FIRST cousin, he or she is actually your FOURTH degree relative, your 2nd cousin your 6th degree relative, 3rd cousin your 8th, and so on. Marriages in most countries are thus defined by how many degrees related you are with your prospective mate. 

According to a 2012 article inEthical Technology published in the website of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies worldwide attitudes on cousin marriages differ considerably. Ethiopia's Orthodox Christians have the most prohibitive laws on consanguineous marriages: it bans marriage between relatives up to 6th cousins. They believe that if you share a common ancestor in the paternal line within 6 generations then you are still brothers and sisters, thus prohibited from getting married.

South Korea prohibits cousins marrying up to 3rd cousins; Taiwan, China, and the Philippines up to first cousins. In the United States there are 31 of the 50 states that ban first cousin marriage. Elsewhere, like in Europe and South America, consanguinity generally isn’t banned though the incidence is relatively low. The article also continues to show the places where cousin marriages are prevalent: Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia are the most consanguineous regions in the world, largely due to its general acceptance, even preference, in Islam. In India, the Muslim rate of cousin marriage is 22%, with the rate nearly doubling to 40% in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan, noted earlier, is the world leader in consanguinity with around 70%; Saudi Arabia is 50+%; Iran and Afghanistan are 30-40%, Iraq 33%, Egypt and Turkey 20+%, and Qatar 54%.

It is estimated that there are about 1.1 billion people in the world today who are either married to cousins or the children of cousins and that, throughout history, approximately 80% of all marriages have been to first or second cousins. That is why if you look at your pedigree chart especially during the 16 to 1400s you will see a repetition of names of ancestors; cousin marriage leads to a phenomenon called pedigree collapse. In an ideal pedigree chart you should have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. Each generation should have double the number of ancestors from the previous generation. However, if your parents are first cousins, for example, then you would four grandparents but only six instead of eight great-grandparents as both your parents share the same grandparents. Pedigree collapse happens more and more in the early years of civilization. The farther you are in the family tree, the smaller the number of people in the place where your ancestors were from, thus necessitating the marriage between relatives.

One reason for all the fuss and interest in cousin marriages is the possibility of producing children with genetic disorders. I don’t want to go into the details of genetic disorders, but for the sake of discussion here are some of the possible genetic diseases and problems that may be passed on to children of consanguineous couples at a higher rate: schizophrenia, congenital heart defects, pulmonary stenosis and atresia, cystic fibrosis, cystinosis, nephronophthisis, spinal muscular atrophy, albinism, achromatopsia, hearing disorders, central nervous system anomalies, congenital anomalies, physical handicaps, mental retardation and malignancies, added risk of infant and child mortality.

In the end, I believe in two things when it comes to consanguineous marriage: one, there are always unexplainable circumstances that lead people to fall in love. Whether they are aware of their blood relation or not is beside the point. Sometimes, when love comes knocking no amount of taboo can discourage two people from pursuing their relationship. Second, if two people push through with marriage despite the knowledge of a close blood connection then they should be responsible enough to have genetic counseling in order to determine what possible genetic diseases, if any, their offspring may have.


1. Sheila L. Ager, Familiarity Breeds: Incest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty, The Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 125, (2005), pp. 1-34.
2. Kelly Trumble, The Library of Alexandria, USA: Clarion Books, 2003.
3. The Book of Jubilees
4. Anne Rice, Queen of the Damned, USA: Ballantine Books, September 13, 1989.
5. Luciano P.R. Santiago, The Houses of Lakandula, Matanda, and Soliman (1571-1898): Genealogy and Group Identity, Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, Volume 18, No. 1, March 1990.
 6. Querijero-Molina Genealogy Page
7. Ambeth Ocampo, Rizal Without the Overcoat, Manila: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 1990.
8. Evelyn Z. Macalran, Mikey A marrying his Cousin? No Problem, Manila Standard, Dec. 11, 2001.
9. Sandy Araneta, Church says no bar for Mikey Arroyo to marry Second Cousin, Philippines Star, December 11, 2001.
10. Abe Florendo, ANGELA: GMA AN IDEAL MOM-IN-LAW, The Philippine Star, February 21, 2002.
11. Aquino Geni Page managed by Danica Yap
12. Familia Araneta Genealogy managed by Oscar Araneta
13. Hank Pellissier, Cousin Marriage - 70% in Pakistan - Should it be Prohibited?, Ethical Technology, Ma6 26, 2012.
14. Steve Sailer, Cousin Marriage Conundrum, The American Conservative, January 13, 2003.


  1. Hi! Me and my cousin has been together for almost 5 years and we have a 4 years old dAughter, and she is very healthy. We are working here in Dubai and we are planning to get married. Is this possible? We are both Filipino and we know thAt in our country first cousins cannot marry each other..

    1. Chapter 3, Art. 38 of the Family Code of the Philippines states that "The following marriages shall be void from the beginning for reasons of public policy"

      (1) Between collateral blood relatives whether legitimate or illegitimate, up to the fourth civil degree;

      Your first cousin is your 4th degree relation so unfortunately you can't get married in the Philippines. I personally don't mind, but that is our policy.

    2. But, can we get married here in Dubai?

    3. I suggest you consult a lawyer. I am not really familiar with the legalities of cousin marriages. Good luck!

  2. I like that term too - consanguineous relations. People have been using "incest" a lot recently since it's been a year since I got my first DNA test and learned a whole lot about various endogamous groups and how common it was among many different cultures, particularly in the old days where mobility wasn't an option.

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  4. I'm also having a relationship with my cousin (2nd cousin)..I know that our case is permitted here in Philippines (the marriage thing)...the only problem is that marriage between cousins, doesn't matter what civil degree you are, is a my family..they are too close-minded about this saying that as long as you cousins then is it no OK..

    Only the two of us know about our relationship...our families are really close to each other...and we are having hard time on to open this matter to them and make them understand..

    My point is...whether it is permitted or not...Majority of the Filipinos are still not welcoming about this idea.

    1. Same buddy. But how is your relationship with her now?

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