A pink taxi

A pink taxi

August 6, 2010

Maternal and Paternal



In Arab countries, aunts and uncles on either side of the family have different titles: in arabic ammou/amto for paternal uncles and aunts, khalo/khalto for the maternal uncles and aunts.
I may be generalizing, but I believe that relationships are very different with members of each side.

A maternal cousin of my father visited us last weekend. My grandmother was a Palestinian from Jerusalem. The Khalidi family are today all academics, my father's generation, as well as their children (very few are not). Some are scientists, most are historians.


My father and his cousin spoke about the various members of their relatives, informing each other of the whereabouts and latest stories of their mutual cousins. They were talking about one professor or the other and much academic politics. Then they veered to true politics, but their conversation had strategic studies' overtones, rather than domestic politics.

Their conversations made me think of how different they would be had my father's Lebanese paternal family visited us that afternoon. The Salaams are a political family and while they are educated and sponsored educational institutions, they are not academic per se (some exceptions). The generation of my father and their children have a small number of PhDs, but most of his cousins and siblings have chosen politics or business for their careers. If one of my father's Salaam cousins had visited him that day instead of a Khalidi, the conversations would have moved towards business deals or the micropolitics of Lebanon. Such a small country, so much politics!

These two families are very different in their cultures despite the fact that they originate from two neighboring Arab countries (barely any dialect differences). Also two siblings married two siblings of each family (as seen in the posting "Page in History"). That resulted in cousins that enjoyed both sets of family culture. When I speak of my own background I always need to specify: my father is half Lebanese half Palestinian. I specify this because of all the above distinctions. The differences lie not in national cultures but rather in family cultures.

2 comments:

  1. It bothers me a lot how much the maternal side of one's family is always dismissed. One carries the paternal name and people hardly ever know the maternal. One carries the paternal nationality at birth and in most Arab countries like Lebanon a woman can never give citizenship to her children. We are known or famous for the actions of the paternal family and not the maternal. We are expected to belong to the paternal religious following and not the maternal.

    When did the maternal become so irrelevant?

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  2. I had a balanced relation with the two sides of my family,most probably because of the multiple intermarriages between the two.But I guess it was because of the mutual respect they had for each other and the absence of any competition between the two sides.
    I grew up in a political family,but we were geared towards an Arab nationalist atmosphere,over and above the narrow Lebanese politics.Though my maternal side was uprooted from their country,we adopted their cause,and suffered the turmoil that was caused by this Naqba!At one time it was not easy to balance the pressures of that struggle.
    I have almost sixty first cousins on both sides of the family,which makes difficult to keep in touch,especially that they have spread all over the globe.Nevertheless,we still have politicians,civil servants,and mostly historians and professors in this vast amalgam of family life.

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