What is kinship?
A system of social ties deriving from the
recognition of genealogical relations
 universally recognized and
 universally accorded social
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 they marry
 Where to live
 How to raise children
 Which land to cultivate
 Which property to inherit
 Who to turn to for help
 Provides a sense of belonging and identity
 How to behave with respect to others
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
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.
A bit of history
19th century anthropologist viewed kinship terminology as a
linguistic expression of the type of social organization.
 E.g. Henry Morgan and classificatory (lumpers) Vs descriptive
Early 20th century an interest in the interrelationship between
kinship and other aspects of society, economics, politics, religion etc.
Late 20th century a shift to the processes of social life
look at interrelationships of kinship and its role in ethnicity,
social class, gender and person.
Kinship has less of a central focus than it once did
Although now an interest in how kinship is important in forming a
sense of identity
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.
Kin Types
English Kin Terms
Hawaiian Kin 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
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.
If you were a peasant farmer why would your descent
group be important to you?
 Share rights in some means of production e.g. horticultural society
where land cannot be divided beyond a certain limit
Provide co-operative work force where tasks require many people
support above the family level
protection of critical resources family can't provide e.g. Land
Provide a sense of belonging
and identity
 Help old and infirm
 Find marriage partners
 Religious - ancestor worship
maintain religious laws
 Settle disputes
 Economic social, religious,
legal functions.
 Defence
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
Patrilineal Descent
© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba
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
tends toward male dominated
often associated with intensive
agriculture and pastoralism
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
© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba
Patrilineal Kinship - Self Test
For which of the
following pairs of
relatives are both
(highlighted in purple)
members of Ego's
A. 7 and 12
B. 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
females line
Often associated with
Eg. Trobriand islanders and
© 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
© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba
Matrilineal Kinship - Self Test
Which of the
indicated in
purple are in
© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba
A. 15 only
B. 15 and 3 only
C. 15, 3 and 23 only
D. 15, 3, 23 and 29 only
E. All of the above?
parallel descent
men trace their ancestry through male lines
and women trace theirs through female lines.
Cognatic descent
trace ancestry through both parents lines.
Three types : 1. Bilateral 2. Double 3. Ambilineal
Bilateral descent
All societies construct their kinship systems and define social
relationships and social groups on the basis of a bilateral network
Formed through combinations
of marriage and descent ties
Rarely forms a
recognized social group
Usually only one side
of the relationship
Bilateral Descent
related equally to both
mother and fathers side.
Kin links through males and
females are perceived as being
similar or equivalent.
relatives on one side just
like on other-symmetrical.
•“aunt” applies to father’s sister
and mother’s sister without
distinguishing which side.
!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
 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
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
• 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
•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.
Cross Cousins
 Children of a brother and sister
 A Man's children will be of his own lineage and his sisters in her
husband’s (in patrilineal case)
 A man marries his mother's brother's daughter or his father's
sister's daughter and they are in different descent groups or lineages
 In matrilineal case a woman's children will be of her own lineage
and her brother's in his wife's group
Why is this distinction made?
Serves to maintain alliances between groups and exchanges
Parallel cousins
 Children of same sex siblings
 Children of cousins belong to the same lineage
 Marriage to parallel cousins is preferred in many societies
although less so than cross cousins
It does not widen the sphere of social alliances.
Why is the distinction made?
 it keeps the lineage resources from being transferred to
other groups through marriage exchange and inheritance
 it is important where the continuity of property is
important as in the case of pastoral societies where parallel
cousin marriages are arranged to maintain the integrity of
family herds
The Yanomamo
Live in Venezuela and northern Brazil
125 scattered villages of between 40 to 250 people 75-80 average
total population of about 15,000
live in very dense jungle
They are horticulturists
Grow plantains, bananas, sweet potatoes sweet manioc (a root crop
which is boiled and refined into a flour) biter manioc is poisonous),
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
Actively conduct warfare, conceive of themselves as being fierce
This is reflected in their mythology, values, settlement
patterns political behaviour and marriage patterns.
Most moves are
stimulated by
New garden sites
are selected for
political reasons
the threat of raids
from neighbouring
villages force them
to move
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 so as 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
Lineage are patrilineal and
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
indian celebrating
her passage to
Ideal marriage is one of sister
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
They distinguish between cross-cousin and
parallel cousins
Within each generation the males of one
lineage call each other brother and all the
women sister.
Males of lineage X call males 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
 The relationship
between a man and
his brother of the
same age is generally
poor because they
are competitors
Villages fission when
the population has about
150 people because of
internal feuds and
fighting that peace is
difficult to maintain.
 The fissoning of a
village often results over
If the village were to
fission it would split
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
 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
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 if this is that there is a shortage of women
This shortage is exacerbated in villages where one lineage
dominates, which means that for the men of the village there is a
shortage of women.
To compensate for this the
men conduct raids on other
villages to abduct women to