The Study of Kinship

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The Study of Kinship
*Works Cited Missing*
When studying kinship, it is needless to say that just one type of
society can justify for kinship patterns; rather, to be able to
identify and understand the differences of kinship systems, one needs
to do a cross-cultural comparison. I’ve decided to compare the system
of the Trobriand Islanders of the South Pacific, to the very loose
kinship arrangement of the Ju’wasi San of the Kalahari. These two
societies have been chosen as they represent different levels of
social, cultural, and technological complexities. The Ju’wasi were
gatherers and hunters, living in small, mobile groups; the
Trobrianders were horticulturists living in villages of up to 400

The Trobrianders (Malinowski: early 20th century and Powell: mid 20th
century) live in some 80 villages whose populations range from 40 –
400. These villages are further divided into hamlets, and each hamlet
consists of a matrilineage, or a dala (a group of men related to each
other through the female line, along with their wives and children). A
dala is a corporation that controls land. Each dala had its origin in
a brother/sister pair who claim a plot of land. The dala marriage is
traced through the female line and individuals must marry someone from
outside their own dala. Their households are composed of wives,
husbands, and children. Males 12-151 years of age go to live with
their father (patrilocal residence). If the male will inherit land
from the dala of his mother’s brother, he lives with his uncle
(avanculocal residence); the father, in this case, is considered as an
affine, or an in-law.

The Ju’wasi (Marjorie Shostak:? And Richard Lee:?), for most of the
year, live in groups of 10-40 people, bilaterally related (through

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both parents) who hunt and gather in a territory associated with a
particular water hole. These camp groups are usually organized around
brother/sister pairs who claim ownership of a water hole. They bring
in their spouses and children to the group, and in return the spouses
might bring in their family relations – developing alliances. The
children spend most of their time with their mothers. The nuclear
family (husband, wife, and children) is the main economic unit. The
bridegrooms then join the camp of bride’s parents for the
brideservice. The camp composition changes as a result of changing
social relations. The ongoing change shows how the kinship arrangement
of the Ju’wasi is very loose and flexible.

Comparing these two general structures, we can see that the Ju’wasi
key family relationship of husband/wife is different to the Trobriand
brother/sister. We can see that in the case of the Trobrianders, the
father of the family is an outsider to his children, a member of
another family group. His interests are mainly of his sister’s
children, since they are members of his matrilineage. Furthermore,
since the dala is more important than the nuclear family, the
Trobrianders refer to certain people under the same kin term. In other
words, a person refers to all women of his or her matrilineage of the
same generation by the same term. Thus, a man has many ‘sisters’, and
a woman has many ‘brothers’.

Courtship and sexual play begin early within the Trobrianders. Since
sexual activity before marriage is common, the couple has already been
living together, and a marriage simply formalizes this existing
relationship. The parents are in charge of choosing a spouse and
sometimes arrange the matches. The Trobrianders belong under the term
‘exogamy’ since they marry out of their own clan. In addition, the
incest taboo applies to all close relatives, particularly brothers and
sisters, who include all members of a matrilineage of the same
generation. According to the Trobrianders, fathers are not related by
kinship to their daughters. The best marriage for a man is to a woman
from his father’s clan, because then his children, who will trace
their descent from their mother, will be member of his father’s clan.
There is no formal marriage ceremony; the girl simply overnights at
her boyfriend’s house. In the morning, if the bride’s parents approve
of the marriage, the mother will bring in yams for breakfast. Later,
the groom’s father and maternal uncle begin collecting bridewealth
(generally things of high value) to give to the wife’s kin and her
father. The requirement of bridewealth makes young men dependent on
members of their matrilineage. One reason men marry is to obtain yams.
To them, yams are not just food but are valuable symbols or objects of
wealth and are used as gifts to create and keep relationships among
people. The amount and quality of yams stored and displayed by a man
are indications of the regard in which his wife’s kin holds him, and
of his status in the community.

For the Ju’wasi, courtship, sex, and marriage are learnt at an early
stage in life too. Ju’wasi men usually marry for the first time
between the ages of 18-25, when they are able to hunt and work for
their wives’ parents (brideservice). Marriage is important for a man
for a number of reasons: it marks him as an adult, he gains a sex
partner, and he gains a mate to provide his food. Women marry when
they are about 17. There isn’t a big importance as to why women marry,
but there is importance to why they marry at an early age. The earlier
she is married, the longer she and her husband will stay with her
parents, thus, the longer her husband will work for her parents.
Moreover, the bride’s family gains an alliance with the groom’s
family, and needs not get involved in open conflict with other men
after their daughter. The Ju’wasi not only avoid choosing a spouse who
is a close kinsperson, well-behaved, generous, cooperative etc., they
are also restricted in the choice of a marriage partner by their
naming system. People with the same name consider themselves related,
regardless of their actual kinship relation to one another. The older
person in the relationship would always resolve disagreements about
the kin connection between people. Marriages are almost always
arranged by the couple’s parents. If the girl’s parents approve of the
match, the families exchange gifts to indicate agreement. If the girl
protests strongly, the marriage does not take place.

Although family types and economic responsibilities (brideservice as
opposed to bridewealth) vary between the two societies, they involve
exchange of objects. This exchange shows how alliances are formed and
sustained. The key relationships also vary in the different family
types. The Ju’wasi key relationship is between husband and wife as
opposed to Trobriand key relationships which are between brother and

The Trobrianders’ mythology and beliefs about procreation dramatically
depict the matrilineal element in their lives. They say that a baloma
spirit enters the woman and conception occurs. Sexual intercourse play
no role in conception whatsoever, but rather plays a role in the
development and growth of the child—the man’s semen being the
nourishment for the child. Men’s sexuality plays an important part in
maintaining an aura of sexual attractiveness in order to attract more
wives. The more wives he gets, the more brother-in-laws he will have,
and thereby, the more yams he will get. The yams supply the wealth
they need to maintain their position of influence.

The Ju’wasi acknowledge the fact that pregnancy results from sexual
intercourse. They also believe that conception takes place at the end
of the woman’s menses—when the man’s semen joins with the last of the
menstrual blood. Wealth plays virtually no part in the lives of the
Ju’wasi, but sex, love, and beauty are very important (especially for
women). A woman’s sexuality is important to her, since it displays her
ability to attract lovers and proclaims her control over her social
life. For the Ju’wasi women (and man), it makes little sense to use
motherhood as a way of creating obligations and ties (due to sacrifice
and suffering for rearing their children)—children, for the Ju’wasi,
don’t owe anything to their parents, and therefore there’s no need for
bridewealth or dowries. The dynamics of the Ju’wasi families are
dependent on the need to maintain independence. Moreover, the yams
they receive are a kind of payment for the children their wives
produce who are members of the wife’s and brother-in-law’s dala.

Again, the distinct differences provide a sense of distinction between
kinship patterns. For example, while the Ju’wasi have little wealth to
contend for, the links men create with their wives’ families are based
not on wealth but on labour. Another is the distinction between the
Ju’wasi and Trobriand paradigms. The Trobriand follow a strict belief
of spiritual conception while the Ju’wasi have to some extent
understood the scientific paradigm of conception through sexual

So in the end, it is needless to say that kinship structure is a
defining factor in how societies function. The structure and dynamics
of family life clearly show how societies differ from one another both
in system and in function.

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