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?
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?
Dick Cheney and Barak
Obama are eighth cousins.
They share a common
ancestor in a 17th century
immigrant from France.
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, religious 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
 Kinship is important in understanding how
societies are organised and how they work.
Kinship Symbols
 (Triangle)
• Means Male
 (Circle)
Means Female
= (Equal sign)
• Means Marriage
| (Vertical line)
• Means ancestors or descendents
— (Horizontal line)
• Means same generation relationship
Kinship Characteristics
deceased female
deceased male
female “ego” of the diagram
male “ego” of the diagram
Copyright ©
Kinship Relationships
is married to
is cohabiting with
is divorced from
is separated from
adopted-in female
adopted-in male
is descended from
Is the sibling of
Copyright ©
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
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
 In many societies descent groups assume important corporate
functions such as land holding
 65 % of unilineal groups are patrilineal, and the rest are matrilineal.
 Unilineal descent groups are exogamous, i.e. marriage must occur
outside the descent group.
Patrilineal Descent
© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba
 Most prevalent (65%)
 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 powerstructure
often associated with intensive
agriculture and pastoralism - East and
South Asia, Europe, and Middle East
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
 About 15% of culutres
 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
Property is inherited through
female line
Often associated with
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
© 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
Inheritance is allocated equally between siblings
Besides the recognition of consanguineal kin or blood relatives
there are Affinal relatives or those related by way of marriage
Descent is traced equally from both
Married couples live away from
their parents
Inheritance is allocated equally
between siblings
Dominant in foraging and industrial
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
 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
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 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
 They conceive of themselves as being fierce and actively conduct
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
New garden sites are
selected for political
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
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
The most bitter fighting
takes place between
members of different villages
who are related to each
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
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
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 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