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Partible paternity refers to the conception belief that children can have multiple fathers (“co-fathers”) and is common to indigenous cultures of lowland South America. The nature of social relationships observed between co-fathers reveals information about the reproductive strategies underlying partible paternity. Here we analyze clan, genealogical, and social relationships between co-fathers for the Suruí, an indigenous horticultural population in Brazil. We show that co-fathers roughly assort into two separate categories. In the affiliative category, co-father relationships are amicable when they are between close kin, namely brothers and father-son. In the competitive category, relationships are more likely of avoidance or open hostility when between more distant kin such as cousins or unrelated men of different clans. Results therefore imply multiple types of relationships, including both cooperative and competitive contexts, under the rubric of partible paternity. These complexities of partible paternity institutions add to our knowledge of the full range of cross-cultural variation in human mating/marriage arrangements and speak to the debate on whether or not humans should be classified as cooperative breeders.
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