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 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
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.
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.
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
female 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.
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
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.
 Lineage
- 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.
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
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
 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
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
villages to create a
network that
potentially allows a
local group to rely
for long periods of
time on the gardens
of neighbouring
These alliances established
along kinship basis
Lineages 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 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
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
This is the ideal what actually happens is far more
 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
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
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
 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
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
Which then results in
the need to form