Defining ‘Kin’ Within Culture

Lila Abu-Lughod’s Bedouin Stories intrigued me greatly. Perhaps most compelling was the depiction of ‘family’ and ‘kin’ within the work and the relatable characteristics to situations that could be observed in modern, Western culture (though I understand how vague that is).

The first depiction of Azza and Gateefa’s relationship is the description of Gateefa delivering her child. Abu-Lughod describes how Azza found Gateefa after she had gone into labor and helped her throughout the process. Though later we learn of the tumultuous relationship between Azza and Gateefa, the first description is one of Azza comforting and helping Gateefa. As they sit with the newborn between them, Abu-Lughod senses a connection she has never felt between them before: “Despite their difficulties with each other – and they had many – there was between them a closeness and dependency…Fourteen years of shared history made for a bond, even if life together was often tense” (pg. 90). This single description conveys their complex relationship, while never alluding to the fact that they are married to the same man. In another essay or another text this same description could explain the relationship between two sisters in almost any time period, who never chose to live together and often face problems but still share a connection. Though we gain a greater insight into the divides between Azza and Gateefa as the story goes on, Abu-Lughod writes this description first to highlight their connection persists even through all the stories she goes on to recount.

Another parallel came as Abu-Lughod describes Migdim’s reaction to Haj’s decision to marry Azza. Migdim urges him not to do so and even goes to warn Azza against marrying her son, claiming “the man was tough, his wives were difficult, and he had lots of children” (pg. 96). The theme of a meddling mother is common in many stories involving romance and one we’ve seen in Pride and Prejudice. The cross-cultural parallel, though each instance has its differences, shows how important the ‘proper’ marriage is to relatives of the older generation.

After Azza has her baby, Gateefa and some of the other women go to visit her. The visit is unpleasant for all and eventually Gateefa demands to be taken home. Gateefa tells Abu-Lughod about the car ride home, saying, “I really let him have it: for the money spent on her while the rest of his family didn’t have anything, a woman who isn’t worth even a shoe, and on and on” (pg. 99). ¬†The whole car ride, Haj doesn’t respond to Gateefa. But when Gateefa gets home and is asked what is wrong, she doesn’t tell anyone. While the subject of their argument is particular to their marriage, the scene could be seen in a variety of contexts and shows the slight defiance Gateefa allows herself to display to her husband. It is worth noting that this defiance comes in the name of the rest of her family.

There are many other references to family and kin, from Azza’s brothers defending her to Gateefa protecting the other children from their respective mothers. While these relationships are no doubt intricate, the common theme is that they all continually come back to each other and maintain a form of communication for the children and the sake of the family. This entire article raised the question of how much our definition of ‘kin’ and ‘family’ is defined by the cultures in which we live.

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One thought on “Defining ‘Kin’ Within Culture

  1. The way you described the bonds between Azza and Gateefa as sisterly was something I found very interesting for I, too, noticed that their relations and aggressions were borderline sister-like. I especially found interesting the moment when Gateefa is taking care of Azza’s children when Azza is trying to hit one of them (I think that’s what happening, or maybe Gateefa is just in general taking care of them). Yet, when Gateefa tries to discipline one of Azza’s children, Azza freaks out. In this way, and also noting that Gateefa is a lot older than Azza, one could describe their relationship in terms of the good sister-bad sister dynamic. Gateefa the older sister, who is conservative, who was disciplined well and is reserved with good manners and understands morality well and defends those who need defending, naturally would put up with Azza’s tantrums and regardless of what she says to her, help her with anything she needs helping with, for in this way she understands that Azza is young and bratty because she was spoiled and received much more than what Gateefa did. I found this very interesting considering the tale she tells Lily about the older and intelligent wife and the young and stupid wife.

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