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KINSHIP. What is kinship?. A system of social ties deriving from the recognition of genealogical relations universally recognized and universally accorded social importance. Who do you consider your kin?. How far do we extend biological relatedness?.

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What is kinship?
  • A system of social ties deriving from the recognition of genealogical relations
      • universally recognized and
      • universally accorded social importance
Who do you consider your kin?

How far do we extend biological relatedness?

Presidents Nixon and Carter were sixth cousins, sharing common ancestors in a Quaker farming couple named Morris who lived near colonial Philadelphia. Were they kin?

Do our kin have to be related to us through blood (Consanguineally) or through marriage (Affinally)?
  • How relatedness is determined is culturally specific
      • adoption
      • Blood
      • food eaten,
      • suckling of milk etc.

There is something shared

Why is Kinship Important to people

It determines

  • Who you marry
  • Where you live
  • How to raise children
  • Which land to cultivate
  • Who you work with
  • Which property to inherit
  • Who to turn to for help
  • Who you look after and who looks after you
  • Provides a sense of belonging and identity
  • How to behave with respect to others
  • Who you worship (ancestors)
the difference makes a difference

The difference between those who see themselves as related to one another and those who are not so related underlies differentially distributed rights, roles and statuses.

Why is it of interest to anthropologists?
  • also has political and economic aspects
  • actors’ models of kinship relations can be seen as their insights into the workings of society. i.e. a model and explanation of dynamics and relationships.
  • Kinship is important in understanding how societies are organised and how they worked.
Kinship Symbols

(Triangle) (Circle)

  • Means Male Means Female

= (Equal sign)

  • Means Marriage

| (Vertical line)

  • Means ancestors or descendents

— (Horizontal line)

  • Means same generation relationship
Genealogical Kin Types and Kin Terms.
    • Kin terms are the labels given in a particular culture to different kinds of relatives.
    • Biological kin type refers to the degree of actual genealogical relatedness.
HawaiianKin Terms

Sudanese Kin Terms

Descent Systems

Rules that people in different cultures use to:

  • determine parenthood
  • identify ancestry
  • assign people to social categories, groups, and roles on the basis of inherited status.
What is a descent group?
  • A group of people who recognize lineal descent from a real or mythical ancestor - a criterion of membership
  • Membership needs to be clearly defined so one knows where one's loyalties lie
  • A publicly recognised social entity
  • Traced through one sex, everyone is unambiguously assigned to a group
  • Obligations and roles keeps group together
  • Citizenship derived from lineage membership and legal status depends on it
  • Political power and religious power derived from it, cults of gods and ancestors
  • A strong effective base for social relations
  • In tribal societies, the descent group, not the nuclear family, is the fundamental unit.
How is a descent group like a corporation?
  • Continues after the death of the members
  • New members are born into it
  • A perpetual existence that allows it to take corporate actions
  • Land owning
  • Organizing productive activities
  • Distributing goods and labour
  • Assigning status
  • Regulating relationships with other groups
Unilineal descent
  • People trace ancestry through either the mother's or father's line, but NOT both
  • About 60% of kinship systems are unilineal.
  • Generally clear cut and unambiguous social units.
  • People of same descent group live together, hold joint interests in property.
  • In many societies descent groups assume important corporate functions such as land holding
Most prevalent
  • Established by tracing descent exclusively through males from a founding male ancestor.
  • Both men and women are included but only male links are utilized to include successive generations
  • A woman's children are not included in her paternal group but her brother's are. Her children belong to her husband's group
  • Property passed through father’s lineage
  • tends toward male dominated power-structure
  • often associated with intensive agriculture and pastoralism

Patrilineal Descent

© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba

Patrilineal descent Male ego

© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba

Patrilineal descent Female ego

Note that a woman's children are not included in her patrilineal group.

© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba

Patrilineal Kinship - Self Test

For which of the following pairs of relatives are both individuals (highlighted in purple) members of Ego's patrilineage?

A. 7 and 12B. 13 and 18 C. 23 and 24 D. 30 and 33 E. 36 and 37

© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba

  • Established by tracing only through females from a founding female ancestor
  • A Man's children are not included in his matrilineal group but his sister's are
  • This makes him important as an uncle
  • Property is inherited through female line
  • Often associated with horticulturalists
  • Eg. Trobriand islanders and Hopi

© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba

Matrilineal Kin - Female Ego

© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba

Matrilineal Kin - Male Ego

Note that a man's children are not included in his matrilineal group.

© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba

Matrilineal Kinship - Self Test

Which of the relatives indicated in purple are in Ego's matrilineage?

A. 15 onlyB. 15 and 3 onlyC. 15, 3 and 23 onlyD. 15, 3, 23 and 29 onlyE. All of the above?

© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba

parallel descent

men trace their ancestry through male lines and women trace theirs through female lines. 

Bilateral Descent
  • Person related equally to both mother and fathers side.
  • Kin links through males and females are perceived as being similar or equivalent.
  • Treat relatives on one side just like on other-symmetrical.
  • “aunt” applies to father’s sister and mother’s sister without distinguishing which side.
  • E.g. !Kung & N. America
  • In North American bilateral kinship there is often matrilineal skewing: a preference for relatives on the mother's side.
What are the Features of a Bilateral Kindred?
  • Everyone is different, sibs excepted
  • Changes as grow older
  • Does not function as a group except at weddings and funerals
  • Functions in relation to ego
  • Little generational depth
  • No leader
  • Does not hold property, organize work or administer justice i.e. does not function as a corporate group
  • Besides the recognition of consanguineal kin or blood relatives there are Affinal relatives or those related by way of marriage
Ambilineal descent
  • lineage traced through one parent or another, but not both
  • People choose the descent group that to belong to.
  • Since each generation can choose which parent to trace descent through, a family line may be patrilineal in one generation and matrilineal in the next.
  • choosing one side over the other often has to do with the relative importance of each family. 
  • ambilineal descent is flexible in that it allows people to adjust to changing family situations.  
  • E.g. when a man marries a woman from a politically or economically more important family, he may agree to let his children identify with their mother's family line to enhance their prospects and standing within the society.
Double descent
  • lineage traced through both parents equally
  • every individual is a member of his or her mother's matrilineage and father's patrilineage
  • As a result, everyone, except siblings potentially have a unique combination of unilineal family lines
  • Usually groups take on complementary functions in relation to each other.
  • For example, among the Yako of Nigeria, patrilineages are important for the allocation and inheritance of land, while matrilineal groups determine the ownership of movable property such as cattle.
  • Individuals can trace ties to an actual common ancestor
    • Economic significance
      • Property ownership
      • Labor sharing
What is a Clan?
  • A non-corporate descent group with each member claiming descent from a common ancestor without actually knowing the genealogical links
  • depends on symbols - animals, plants, tartans etc to provide social solidarity and a sense of identity
  • one is expected to give protection and hospitality to one's fellow clan members
  • acts more for ceremonial and political purposes
  • lacks residential unity of a lineage
  • may be matrilineal or patrilineal
  • does not hold tangible property corporately
    • Assumed/believed relationship between clans
    • Ceremonial and political importance
    • May employ symbols to signify membership
  • Moiety
    • A society that has two phratries
    • groups have reciprocal responsibilities and privileges.
    • The constantly reinforced social and economic exchanges between them results in economic equality and political stability.
    • E.g. Tewa
The Yanomamo
  • Live in very dense jungle in Venezuela (15,000 in 1992) and northern Brazil (11,700 in 2000)
  • 125 scattered villages of between 40 to 250 people 75-80 average
The Yanomami live in roundhouses - a large oval building made of poles and woven palm leaves, somewhat like a football stadium, with the centre open to the sky.
  • Each family has its own cooking fire.
  • There are no walls to separate the families, only poles.
  • The people sleep around their fires in hammocks, strung from those poles.
  • Grow plantains, bananas, sweet potatoes sweet manioc (a root crop which is boiled and refined into a flour) taro, (root crops), palm trees and maize or corn.
  • Each man clears his ground, the headman has the largest garden because he must produce large quantities of food to give away at feasts.
  • The gardens take several months to years to become fully productive and are productive for several years before the soil is exhausted.
  • Older gardens are abandoned and new ones started - hard work and time consuming
They conceive of themselves as being fierce and actively conduct warfare
  • This is reflected in their mythology, values, settlement patterns political behaviour and marriage patterns.
  • Most moves are stimulated by warfare
  • the threat of raids from neighbouring villages force them to move
  • New garden sites are selected for political reasons

Yanomamo war party screwing up their courage for a raid on a neighboring village

Moving gardens to a new area is hard work, and because they take some time before they are productive they form alliances with neighbouring villages
  • They have to rely on their protection.
  • The essence of political life is to develop stable alliances with neighbouring villages to create a network that potentially allows a local group to rely for long periods of time on the gardens of neighbouring villages
These alliances established along kinship basis
  • Lineages are patrilineal and exogamous
  • i.e. males and females belong to the lineage of their fathers and must marry people who belong to a different lineage.
  • Women are very ill-treated and are considered as objects or property and are pawns to be disposed of by their kinsmen.

The “Fertility Goddess" Yanomamo girl celebrating her passage to womanhood

Ideal marriage is sister exchange
  • A man is under an obligation to reciprocate a woman to a kinship group from which he has taken one.
  • Because of this, kinship groups become interdependent socially and form pairs of women-exchanging groups.
  • Men in lineage A exchanges sisters with the men in lineage B
  • In the 2nd generation a man in lineage A marries his mother’s brother’s daughter (who is also his father’s sister’s daughter) (I.e. his cross cousin)
Within each generation the males of one lineage call each other brother and all the women sister.
  • Males of lineage X call males of lineage Y brother-in-law and are eligible to marry their sisters whom they call wife, even though they may not marry them.
  • A man must marry a woman of a category called wife, this is called a prescriptive marriage rule.
  • This is the ideal what actually happens is far more complicated
Ties between partilineally related kinsmen are weaker than that between men of different lineages because the men are drawn into intimate relationships with the kinship groups from which they obtain their wives, and because of the principle of reciprocity, are obligated to reciprocate
  • In other words the obligations to exchange women can link members of affinaly related groups to each other more intimately than ties of blood between males of the same lineage.
  • The relationship between a man and his brother of the same age is generally poor because they are competitors
Villages split when the population has about 150 people because internal feuds and fighting make peace difficult to maintain.
  • Splitting of a village often results over women
  • When villages split they usually do so along lineage lines.
  • The most bitter fighting takes place between members of different villages who are related to each other.
In each village you find local descent groups exchanging wives
  • Each descent group arranges marriages often for political reasons
  • A small village may require alliances with larger ones for purposes of defence.
  • the men of the smaller village may promise to give women to members of the larger villages
  • Women are promised at a very early age, even before birth
  • A man has a considerably more say about the disposition of his daughter when he is young and his sons are also young
  • When they grow older they can overrule their father and insist or that their sister be given to a man from some lineage that is likely to reciprocate.
The members of a militarily vulnerable village will breach the marriage prescription in order to establish political alliances with neighbouring groups by ceding women to them
  • They may not get women in return
The Yanomamo also practice female infanticide, because they desire a male first.
  • They also practice polygyny. The more powerful men may have more than one wife.
  • The result of this is that there is a shortage of marriageable women especially in villages where one lineage dominates.
  • To compensate for this the men conduct raids on other villages to abduct women to marry.
  • Which then results in the need to form alliances