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Consanguinity and homogamous marriages among Chaouis, a Berber population from Eastern Algeria.


Homogamy describes unions where partner choice is based on specific criteria (ethnic, religious, social, cultural and socioprofessional). Unions between individuals geographically close sharing the same socioprofessional profiles, contribute to the social immobility and to the increase of inbreeding [1].

Arab-Muslim societies are the most adepts of this type of marital choice. Consanguinity reached 22% in India [2], 65% in Sudan and 60.1 % in Mauritania [3], 56% in Saudi Arabia [4], 49% in the North of Jordan [5] and 54% in Qatar [6].

Consanguinity affects the distribution, the structure and the heterogeneity of the population genetic patrimony by modifying gene frequencies and genotype frequencies [7]. Related parents are more predisposed to carry same alleles than two individuals taken randomly from the population. This means that for a given gene, consanguineous offspring are more frequently homozygous than others.

Thus, this phenomenon contributes to the impoverishment of genetic variability by favoring the appearance of homozygotes and increasing birth defects and rare hereditary diseases [8].

Few studies investigating inbreeding in Algeria were realized but no one has been carried among the Chaouis. Consanguinity reached in the general population 22% to 25% [9], 36.4 % in 1994 [10], 34.04% at Telemcen [11] and 38.30% in 12 Algerian towns [12].

This study aims to investigate matrimonial strategy among Chaouis by exploring different types of assortative mating: consanguinity, endogamy and social homogamy (cultural and professional) in order to establish the Chaouis family structure. Results could serve as an indispensable point of comparison for Algerian or international studies in this area and determine the effective role of inbreeding in the Chaouis pathology.


The studied area:

The study was carried out in Khenchela, highlands of Northeastern Algeria, in the Aures region. Khenchela is situated at 1200 meters altitude and is bounded on North by Oum El Bouaghi, on Southwest by Batna and Biskra, on South by El Oued and on East by Tebessa. Its area is about 9715 km2 with a population estimated to 422 500 people [13].

The familial investigation:

The investigation was conducted in the blood transfusion point of the public hospital Ali BOUSHABA, Khenchela on a sample of 112 unrelated adults Chaouis.

A questionnaire prepared in advance allowed us to obtain demogenetic, cultural and socio-economic data collected at the Studied Couple Generation noted (SCG), the Husband's Parents Generation noted (HPG) and the Wife's Parents Generation noted (WPG).

Data analysis:

The inbreeding coefficient Ca is calculated using the following equation [14]

Ca = 1/8 Rdcg + 1/16 Rcg + 1/32 Rci + 1/64 Rcig

Rdcg: Frequency of unions between double first cousins;

Rcg: Frequency of unions between first cousins;

Rci: Frequency of unions between first cousins once removed;

Rcig: Frequency of unions between second cousins.

Homogamy analysis was made using STATA 11 software. Cross tables were established according to the type of social homogamy (cultural and professional). Professional homogamy was obtained from two cross tables. The first one contains husbands / maternal grandfathers' occupations (first form) and the second one contains paternal grandfathers' / maternal grandfathers' professions (second form). Homogamy tendency appears in the main diagonal.



Consanguineous and endogamous unions are the marital choice the most practiced in the Arab-Muslim world and Chaouis from Khenchela don't make the exception. Indeed, inbreeding rates were high: 56.25% at (SCG), 52.68% at (HPG) and 60.71% at (WPG). These results are higher than those described in India: 11.9% [15], in Croatia: 9.3% [16] and in Sabra, Western Algeria: 33.33% and 35.48% recorded respectively at (SCG) and at the parental generation [17]. However, they are almost equal to those found in Saudi Arabia: 56% [18].

Unions between first cousins were the most contracted: 47.61% at (SCG), 38.98% at (HPG) and 44.12% at (WCG). A preference for marriages with parallel patrilineal cousins was predominant (Table 1). These results are concordant with those found in Tunisia [19] and Morocco [20] who also noted a preference for marriages between first cousins. This type of union provides to couples and their parents more advantages than disadvantages on personal and familial plans. It ensures to spouses marriage stability, the acceptance of the partner and his parents in their being and having and strengthening interfamilial links [21].

The average coefficient of inbreeding was 37.95 x [10.sup.-3] at (SCG), 27.54 x [10.sup.-3] at (HPG) and 30.79 x [10.sup.-3] at (WPG). It was higher than those in Morocco: 16.6 x [10.sup.-3] at (SCG), 22.9 x [10.sup.-3] at (HPG) and 17.5 x [10.sup.-3] at (WPG) [22], among three generations in Jordan: 13.5 x [10.sup.-3], 20 x [10.sup.-3] and 14.2 x [10.sup.-3] [23], in Qatar: 23.724 x [10.sup.-3] at (SCG), 18.425 x [10.sup.-3] at (HPG) and 16.41 x [10.sup.-3] at (WPG) [24], in Northern Sweden: 2.0x10-3 [25] and in South America: 0.53 x [10.sup.-3] [26]. The average inbreeding coefficient is used to evaluate the homozygosis risk at the population level, especially for genes responsible for inherited diseases. Therefore, a study is necessary to explore the association between consanguinity and genetic disorders among Chaouis.

Endogamy (geographic homogamy):

Chaouis are strongly endogamous: 97.32% at (SCG), 91.96% at (HPG) and 93.75% at (WPG). These results are higher than those described in two different Moroccan populations. Prevalence of endogamy in Gharb-Chrarda-Beni Hssen was 70.48% at (SCG), 92.31% at (HPG) and 85.85% at (WPG) [27]. It was 81.2% among an isolated humane population in the Moyen Atlas where Berbers were the most endogamous (82.15%) [20]. The high rate of consanguinity demonstrates that endogamy is still a matrimonial strategy among Chaouis. [28] reported that several authors consider endogamy as a social immobility factor of the individual and of the genetic isolation of the population [29,30,31,15,32].

Social homogamy:

Cultural homogamy:

The different educational levels were classified into three classes:

* Lower level: illiterate and primary school;

* Middle level: secondary school;

* Upper level: university.

Description of spouses' cultural level revealed that low educational level was predominant especially among wives (69.64%) (Figure 1). These results join those of Moroccan studies where distribution of low educational attainment in the general population was the highest mostly among women: 96.6% [33], 82.8% [34] and 60.6% [35]. This imbalance could be due to the inequality of educational opportunity between men and women in Khenchela.

Prevalence of cultural homogamy reached 65.18% at (SCG) where 52 of 73 homogamous couples (71.23%) had a low educational level (Table 2). It is higher than Moroccan results discussed by [28] and [36] who noted respectively 54.29 % and 56.2% of homogamous couples. This educational homogamy could be a situation imposed by the dominance of the low educational level rather than a premeditated choice.

Professional homogamy:

Frequency of professional homogamy was 16.07%. It was only among farmers (44.44%) and civil servants (55.56%) (first form, Table 3). While 46.43% of grandfathers have the same professions and farmers were the most homogamous (86.54%) (second form, Table 4). These results are lower than those of [37] where 37.7% of women marry men who are socially similar to their fathers and 58% of couples have fathers sharing the same social status.

Agricultural work presents a major proportion in professional homogamy. These results match those of [33] who reported that a farmer prefers to marry his daughter to a farmer or a farmer's son, allowing the son in law to join its agricultural heritage to that of his wife.


Like the other Arab-Muslim societies, homogamous marriages among Chaouis from Khenchela occupy until now a very important place. Indeed, mate choice is done on a partner of the same geographical and ethnic origin contributing to the increase of inbreeding. This choice is related to social influences such as socioprofessional and educational levels and that whatever the degree of consciousness they have about the consequences.

The conducted study, for the first time, among Chaouis allowed us to define their family structure and to and have an idea about their genetic structure. This could be extended in the future by studying marital choice by isonymy and its heredity through generations. Finally, an investigation on consanguinity impacts is very interesting to analyze the association between inbreeding, genetic disorders and pre-reproductive mortality among Chaouis which should be taken into consideration in genetic counseling.


Article history:

Received 12 November 2014

Received in revised form 31 December 2014

Accepted 22 January 2015

Available online 25 February 2015


The authors would like to thank all the volunteers and to acknowledge the members of Blood Transfusion Laboratory, Ali BOUSHABA Hospital (Khenchela, ALGERIA) for their collaboration and availability.


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(1) Souad Saoudi, (2) Nizar Ben-Halim, (2) Rym Kefi, (2) Sonia Abdelhak and (1) Zihad Bouslama

(1) Laboratory of Ecology of Terrestrial and Aquatic Systems, Department of Biology, Faculty of Sciences, Badji Mokhtar University, P. O. Box. 12 Annaba 23000, Algeria.

(2) Laboratory of Biomedical Genomics and Oncogenetics, Pasteur Institute of Tunis, P.O. Box . 74, 13 Place Pasteur, Tunis 1002, Tunisia.

Corresponding Author: Souad Saoudi, Department of Biology, Faculty of Sciences, Badji Mokhtar University, P.O. Box. 12 Annaba 23000. Algeria.

Tel: +213 550 73 94 07; E-mail:

Table 1: Distribution of consanguinity frequencies through

                                Consanguinity classes (%)

                                     First cousins

                              DFB      DMS     DFS     DMB

Generations    SCG (N=63)    33.33    7.94    3.17    3.17
               HPG (N=59)     32.2    5.08    1.69      -
               WPG (N=68)    35.29    2.94    4.41    1.47

                                Consanguinity classes (%)

                              Double     First      Second
                              first     cousins    cousins
                             cousins      once

Generations    SCG (N=63)      3.17       7.94      11.11
               HPG (N=59)      1.69       3.39        -
               WPG (N=68)      1.47       4.41        -

                              Third     Consanguinity
                             cousins    not determined
                               (%)           (%)

Generations    SCG (N=63)     11.11         19.05
               HPG (N=59)      8.47         47.46
               WPG (N=68)      4.41         45.59

SCG: Studied Couple Generation, HPG: Husband's Parents Generation,
WPG: Wife's Parents Generation, DFB: Daughter of Father's Brother,
DMS: Daughter of Mother's Sister, DFS: Daughter of Father's
Sister and DMB: Daughter of Mother's Brother.

Table 2: Matrix of cultural homogamy among the Studied
Couple Generation.

                        Husbands educational levels

                        Lower    Middle    Upper    Total

wives          Lower      52       21        5        78
levels         Middle     7        17        4        28

               Upper      0         2        4        6

               Total      59       40        13      112

Table 3: Matrix of professional homogamy (first form).

                          Maternal grandfathers

                         1     2     3     4

Husbands         1       -     2     1     -
                 2       -     8     -     1

                 3       -     -     -     -

                 4       -     4     -     -

                 5       -    13     3     3

                 6       -    27     2    10

                 7       -     2     1     -

                 8       -     2     -     1

               Total     0    58     7    15

                          Maternal grandfathers

                         5     6     7     8    Total

Husbands         1       -     1     -     -      4
                 2       1     -     -     -      10

                 3       -     -     -     -      0

                 4       -     5     -     -      9

                 5       -     1     -     -      20

                 6       6    10     -     -      55

                 7       3     4     -     -      10

                 8       1     -     -     -      4

               Total    11    21     0     0     112

1: Without a profession, 2: Farmers, 3: Rancher, 4: Trader,
5: Liberal function, 6: Civil servant, 7: High civil servant
and 8: Entrepreneur.

Table 4: Social origin of the Studied Couple Generation (second form).

                          Maternal grandfathers

                         1     2     3     4

Paternal          1      -     -     -     -
professions       2      -    45     2    10

                  3      -     2     1     -

                  4      -     4     -     1

                  5      -     3     3     1

                  6      -     4     1     3

                  7      -     -     -     -

                  8      -     -     -     -

                Total    0    58     7    15

                          Maternal grandfathers

                         5     6     7     8    Total

Paternal          1      -     -     -     -      0
professions       2      5     7     -     -      69

                  3      -     5     -     -      8

                  4      3     3     -     -      11

                  5      1     2     -     -      10

                  6      2     4     -     -      14

                  7      -     -     -     -      0

                  8      -     -     -     -      0

                Total   11    21     0     0     112

1: Without a profession, 2: Farmers, 3: Rancher, 4: Trader,
5: Liberal function, 6: Civil servant, 7: High civil servant
and 8: Entrepreneur.
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Article Details
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Author:Saoudi, Souad; Ben-Halim, Nizar; Kefi, Rym; Abdelhak, Sonia; Bouslama, Zihad
Publication:Advances in Environmental Biology
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:6ALGE
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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