The foundation of social organization, and hence of government, the
tangible form of social organization, was originally the bond of real
and, legal blood kinship. The recognition and perpetuation of the ties
of blood kinship were the first important steps in the permanent social
organization of society.
Among the North American Indians kinship is primarily
the relation subsisting between two or more persons whose blood is
derived from common ancestors through lawful marriage. Persons between
who in kinship subsists are called kin or kindred. Kinship may be lineal
or collateral. By birth through the natural order of descent kindred are
divided into generations or categories, which represent lineally and
collaterally relationships or degrees of kinship, which in turn are
sometimes modified by the age and the sex of the persons so affected. In
noting the degrees of kinship in the direct line all systems appear to
agree in assigning one degree to a generation. Thus is developed a
complex system of relationships.
The extent and the complexity of the
system in any case vary with the social organization of the people.
These degrees of kinship may be called relationships, and they define
more or less clearly the station, rights, and obligations of the several
individuals of the kinship group specified. The distinction between
relationship and kinship must not be confused, for there are persons who
are related but who do not belong to the same kin.
In speaking of the entire body of a group of kindred it
is necessary that reference he made to some person", the propositus, as
the starting point. In general every person belongs naturally to two
distinct families (see Family) or kinship groups, namely, that of the
father and that of the mother. These two groups of kindred, which before
his birth were entirely distinct for the purposes of marriage and the
inheritance of property and certain other rights, privileges, and
obligations, unite in his person and thereafter form only subdivisions
of his general group of kindred, and both these groups share with him
the rights, privileges, and obligations of kindred.
There are two radically different methods of naming
these relationships; the one is called the classificatory, the other the
descriptive method. In the descriptive phrase the actual relationship
becomes a matter of implication, that is, the relationship is made
specific either by the primary terms of relationship or by a combination
of them. Under the first, kindred are never described, but are
classified into categories and the same term of relationship is applied
to every person belonging to the same category. In the descriptive
system of naming kinship degrees there is usually found a number of
There has been prevalent hitherto among many
ethnologists the opinion that the tracing of descent through the
paternal line is in most cases a development from the system of tracing
descent exclusively through females, and that, therefore, the latter
system is antecedent and more primitive than the former. But it is not
at all clear that there has been adduced in support of this contention
any conclusive evidence that it is a fact or that either system has been
transformed from the other; but it is evident that such an improbable
procedure would have caused the disregard and rupture of a vast body of
tabus-of tabus among the "lost sacred known, namely, the tabus of
The kinship system in vogue among the Klamath Indians
of California and Oregon is apparently typical of those tribes in which,
like the Kiowa, both the clan and the gentile systems of kinship are
wanting. This lack of either system, so far as known; is characteristic
of nearly all the tribes of the plains, the Pacific slope, and the
northwest coast. The Klamath system recognizes only two degrees in
ascending above and only two in descending below the propositus in the
direct line, and four collateral degrees of the paternal line, that of
father's brothers, that of father's uncles, and then that of father's
sisters and that of father's aunts; and four collateral degrees of the
maternal line, that of mother's sisters, that of mother's aunts, that of
mother's brothers, and that of mother's uncles, or eight collateral
degrees in all.
Hence in reckoning descent below himself in the direct
line the offspring of propositus recognizes one degree of kinship below
the lower of the two admitted by his father; but in the ascending direct
line, the offspring of propositus does not recognize as a relation the
higher of the two admitted by his father. So that in this system the
circle of relationships shifts with the person selected as the starting
point of the reckoning. The father recognizes relations which his child
does not admit, and the child recognizes relations which the father does
Where the blood ties appear to be so limited and so
disregarded in the social organization, the cohesion of the tribe is
accomplished more or less satisfactorily through military, religious, or
other societies, in North America those tribes among whom the clan
system prevailed, with the tracing of descent through the female line,
became the most important peoples of modern times. The Five Civilized
Tribes of Oklahoma and the Iroquois peoples are examples of this.
Among the Omaha a man must not marry in his own gens. A
law of membership requires that a child belong to its father's gens.
This is descent in the male line, but children of white or black persons
(Negroes) belong to the gens of the mother, into which they are
forbidden to marry. Moreover, a stranger can not belong to any gens of
the tribe because there is no ceremony of adoption into a gens. A man is
prohibited from marrying a woman of the gens of his father, as the women
of this gens are his grandmothers, aunt, sisters, nieces, daughters, or
granddaughters. For the same reason he can not marry a woman of the gens
of his father's mother, but he can marry a woman belonging to any other
gens of his paternal grandmother's phratry, as she would not be of his
Consanguineous or blood kinship embraces not only the
gens of the father, but also that of the mother and grandmothers, and
these kindred with reference to a man fall into fourteen groups, and
with reference to a woman into fifteen groups.
Among the Omaha, within the phratry in which gentes
exist, those who occupy the one side of the fire are not regarded as
full kindred by those occupying the other side of the fire, and they are
prohibited from intermarrying. But were it not for the institution of
these gentes or quasi-kindred groups within the phratries, a male would
be compelled to marry outside of his tribe, for the reason that all the
women of the tribe would otherwise be his kindred through the previous
intermarriages among the ten original "gentes" or phratries.
The Omaha kinship system may be taken as typical of the
gentile organization, tracing descent through the male line. In this
system the relationships are highly complex and the terms, or rather
their approximate English equivalents, denotive of these relationships
are employed with considerable latitude and in quite a different manner
from their use in English. For example: If the propositus be a male or a
female, he or she would call all men his or her 'fathers' whom his or
her father would call 'brothers', or whom his or her mother would call
her potential 'husbands.' he or she would call all women his or her
'mothers' whom his or her mother would call 'sisters', 'aunts', or
'nieces', or whom his or her father would call his potential 'wives.'
Moreover, he or she would call all men 'brothers' who are the sons of
such fathers or mothers, and their sisters would be his or her
'sisters.' he or she would call all men his or her 'grandfathers' who
are the fathers or grandfathers of his or her fathers or mothers, or
whom his or her fathers or mothers would call their mothers' 'brothers.'
he or she would also call all women his or her 'grandmothers' who are
the real or potential wives of his or her grandfathers, or who are the
mothers or grandmothers of his or her fathers or mothers, or whom his or
her fathers would call their fathers 'sisters.'
If the propositus be a male he would call all males his
'sons' who are the sons of his brothers or of his potential wives, and
the sisters of these sons are his 'daughters.' If the propositus be a
female person she would call all children of her sisters her 'children',
because their father is or their fathers are her potential or actual
husband or husbands; and site would call those males her 'nephews' who
are the sons of her brothers, and the daughters of her brothers would be
If the propositus be a male, he would call his sister's
son his 'nephew' and her daughter his 'niece'; but whether male or
female, the propositus would call all finale and female persons who are
the children of his sons, daughters, nephews, or nieces,'
'grandchildren'; and, in like manner, he or she would call all men
'uncles' whom his or her mothers would call their 'brothers', and would
call all female persons 'aunts' who are his or her father's sisters as
well as those who are the wives of his or her uncles. But the father's
sisters' husbands of a male person are his brothers-in-law, because they
are the actual or potential husbands of his sisters; and when the
propositus is a female person they are her actual or potential husbands.
Any female person whom a man's own wife calls 'elder
sister' or 'younger sister', her father's sister, or her brother's
daughter is his potential wife.
Any male person whom a man's wife would call 'elder
brother' or `younger brother' is his brother-in-law; also any other male
person who is the brother of his wife's niece or of his brother's wife.
But his wife's father's brother is his grandfather, not his
brother-in-law, although his sister is his potential wife. When his
brother-in-law is the husband of his father's sister or of his own
sister, his sister is his grandchild, and not his potential wife. A male
person is the brother-in-law of a man if he be the husband of the sister
of the other's father, since that man could marry his (the other's own)
sister, but his aunt's husband is not his brother-in-law when he is his
own uncle or his mother's brother. Any male person is the brother-in-law
of the man whose sister is his wife. But since his sister's niece's
husband is his sister's potential or actual husband, he is his
son-in-law, because he is his daughter's husband.
A male or female person would call any male person his
or her 'son-in-law' who is the husband of his or her daughter, niece, or
grandchild, and his father is his or her son-in-law. When a male person
or a female person would call the father of his or her daughter-in-law
his or her 'grandfather,' her brother is his or her grandson.
A male or female person would call any other female
person who is the wife of his or her son, nephew, or grandson, his or
her 'daughter-in-law'; and the mother of his or her son-in-law is so
called by him or her.
The father, mother's brother, or grandfather of a man's
wife, of his potential wife, or of his daughter-in-law (the last being
the wife of his son, nephew, or grandson) is the grandfather (or
father-in-law) of that mail. Any female person who is the mother,
mother's sister, or grandmother of a man's wife, of his potential wife,
or of his daughter-in-law (a wife of his son, nephew, or of his
grandson) is the grandmother (or mother-in-law) of that, man.
By the institution of either the clan (q. V. ) or the
gens system of determining and fixing degrees of relationship, kinship
through males or through females acquired increased importance, because
under either form of organization it signified 'clan kin' or 'gentile
kin' in contradistinction to non-gentile kin. The members of either were
all organized body of consanguinei bearing a common clan or gentile
name, and were bound together by ties of blood and by the further bond
of mutual rights, privileges, and obligations characteristic of the clan
or the gens. In either case, 'clan kin' or 'gentile kin' became superior
to other kin, because it invested its members with the rights,
privileges, and obligations of the clan or gens.
Where a man calls his mother's sister 'mother', and she
in turn calls him her 'son', although she did not in fact give him
birth, the relationship must in strictness he defined as a marriage
relationship and not as a blood relationship. Under the clan or the
gentile system of relationships kinship was traced equally through males
and through females, but a broad distinction was made between the
paternal and the maternal kindred, and the rights, privileges, and
obligations of the members of the line through which descent was traced
were far more real and extensive than were those of the other line.
Among North American Indians kinship through males was recognized just
as constantly as kinship through females.
There were brothers and
sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers, grandsons and granddaughters,
traced through males as well as through females. While the mother of a
child was readily ascertainable, the father was not, but because of this
uncertainty, kinship through males was not therefore rejected, and
probable fathers, probable brothers, and probable sons were placed in
the category of real fathers, real brothers, and real sons.
In every Iroquois community the degree of security and
of distinction which every member of the community enjoyed, depended
chiefly on the number, the wealth, and the power of his kindred, hence
the tie uniting the members of the kinship group was not lightly or
It appears that where the clan organization is in vogue
the adoption (q. v.) of alien persons was customary.
With descent in the female line a male person had in
his clan grandfathers and grandmothers, mothers, brothers and sisters,
uncles, rarely nephews and nieces, and grandsons and granddaughters,
some lineal and some collateral; at the same time, with the exception of
uncles, he had the same relationships outside of his clan, and fathers,
aunts, sons and daughters, and cousins, in addition. A woman had the
same relationships in the clan as a man, and in addition sons and
daughters; and at the same time she had the same relationships outside
of her clan as had the man.
In certain communities there are terms in use applied
to polyandrous and polygynous marriage relations. For instance, in
Klamath the terns p`tceke'p' denotes:
(1) the relationship of the two or more wives
of a man, and
(2) the relationship of two or more men (who may be brothers) who marry
sisters or a single woman among them.
And in the Cree the
term n' t'ri ‚uim, employed by both men and women, signifies 'my
(sexual) partner'; for example, a wife will apply this terns to the
cowife of the husband or husbands; and the terns nikus‚k is applied by
one man to another with whom he shares a wife or wives, or to whom he
has loaned his own wife. This term is employed also as a term of
friendship among men.
The distinction between one's own father and mother and
the other persons so called was sometimes marked by the use of an
explanatory adjective, 'real,' 'true,' or the like; sometimes by calling
all the others 'little fathers' or 'little mothers.'
The following chart, which applies especially to the Haida, may be taken
as typical of a two-clan system with female descent, self being male:
In paternal succession analogous
series of terms of relationship develop.
The persons belonging to one's own clan being accounted blood relations,
marriage with any of them was not permitted, and where there were many
clans this prohibition usually extended to the father's clans also.
After marriage, terms of affinity corresponding to 'father-in-law,' and
'sister-in-law,' were applied not only to persons who could be so
designated in English, but to all members of the same clans of
corresponding age and sex as well. Where there were but two clans the
terms of affinity might be applied to those who had previously been
known as uncles, aunts, uncles' children, nephews, and nieces, is
indicated in the above table.
Where clans did not exist blood relationship was recognized on both
sides as far as the connection could be remembered, and marriage with
any person within this circle was, generally speaking, less usual than
with one entirely outside, though such marriages were not everywhere
prohibited, and in some cases were actually preferred. There was the
sauce custom, however, of extending the terms of relationship to groups
of individuals, such as the brothers of one's father, and the sisters of
one's mother. Among the Salish tribes of British Columbia, who appear to
have had a special fondness for recording genealogies, the number of
terms of relationship is very greatly increased.
Thus four or even five
generations back of that of the parents and below that of the children
are marked by distinct terms, and there are distinguishing terms for the
first, second, third, and youngest child, and for the uncle, aunt, etc.,
according as one's father, mother, or other relative through whom the
relationship exists is living or dead, and different terms for a living
and a dead wife. There are thus 25 terms of relationship among the Lillooet, 28 among the Shuswap, and 31 among the Squawmish. By way of
illustration, the kinship system of the last-mentioned tribe is
subjoined (see Boas in Rep. on N. W. Tribes of Can., 136, 1890):
1. Direct relationship.
Haakweyuk, great-great-great grandparent or great
tsopeyuk, great-great-grandparent or great-great-grandchild;
stshamik, great-grandparent or great-grandchild; seel, grandfather,
grandmother, great-uncle, or great-aunt; emats, grandchild,
grandnephew, or grandniece; man, father; chisha, mother; men, child;
seentl, eldest child; anontatsh, second child; menchechit, third
child; saut, youngest child; kupkuopits, brothers, sisters, and
cousins together; kuopits, elder brother or sister, or father's or
mother's elder brother's or sister's child; skak, younger brother or
sister, or father's or mother's younger brother's or sister's child
2. Indirect relationship.
(A) When the intermediate relative is alive: sisi, father's or
mother's brother or sister; staeatl, brother's or sister's child;
chemash, wife's or husband's cousin, brother, or sister; or cousin's
brother's or sister's wife or husband; saak, son-in-law,
daughter-in-law, father-in-law, or mother-in-law; skuewas, any
relative of a I)usharnl or wife.
(B) When the intermediate relative is dead: uotsaeqoitl, father's or
mother's brother or sister; suinemaitl, brother's or sister's child;
chaiae, wife's or husband's cousin, brother, or sister, or cousin's
brother's or sister's wife or husband; slikoaitl, son-in-law,
daughter-in-law, father-in-law, or mother-in-law.
3. Indirect affinity Skseel, wife's grandfather or grandmother, or
stepfather's, stepmother's father or mother; skaman, aunt's husband
or stepfather; skechisha, uncle's wife or stepmother; skemen,
stepchild; skemats, grandson's or granddaughter's wife or husband;
skesaak, wife's or husband's stepfather or stepmother, or
stepchild's husband or wife.
It will be noted that
many of these are reciprocal terms, and such were very common in Indian
kinship systems, used between persons of different generations, as
above, or sometimes between persons of opposite, sex of the same
generation, such as husband and wife. Out of 14 terms in Klamath and
Modoc 11 are reciprocal. On the other hand, persons of different sexes
will often indicate the same relative, such as a father or a mother, by
entirely different terms, and different terms are applied to those of a
person's own phratry and to members of the opposite one, while the
Iroquois use, the equivalent for 'brother' for persons inside and
outside the tribe indiscriminately. In all tribes, no matter how
organized, a distinction is made between the elder and the younger
members of the generation of self, at least between older and younger
members of the same sex.
The terms corresponding to 'grandfather' and
`grandmother,' except among a few peoples, like the Salish, were
extended to all those of a generation older than that of the parents and
sometimes even to persons of that generation, while the term for
'grandchild' was applied to very young people by old ones quite
indiscriminately. There were also terms to indicate the potential
relationship of husband and wife, applied by a man to his wife's
sisters, his aunt, or his niece, not because she was or had been, but
because she might become, his wife, as usually happens to the wife's
sister after the wife's death.
Besides the natural import of terms of kinship, they
were employed metaphorically in a great number of ways, as to indicate
respect, to avoid the use of a man's personal name, to indicate tho clan
or phratry to which a person belonged, or to indicate the possession of
special privileges. Naturally enough, they often took the place of clan
or even tribal designations, a fact which undoubtedly has led to serious
errors in attempts to trace the history of Indian tribes. Again, they
were applied to animals or supernatural beings, and with the Haida this
use was intended to mark the fact that the being in question belonged to
such and such a, phratry or that a representation of it was used as a
crest in that phratry. As this classification of animals by phratries or
clans is often traced back to the intermarriage of a human being and an
animal, we have an extension of the idea of kinship quite beyond any
civilized conceptions. See Clan and Gens, Family, Social Organization.
Handbook of American Indians, Frederick W. Hodge,1906
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