Joey Rahimi February 20, 1997
Kinship as a Mechanism for Social Integrating
It is often demonstrated in many anthropological studies that kinship acts as an important means for social integrating in a given society. But is it a fair generalization to say that kinship always functions as a mechanism for social integration?
Kinship refers to the relationships established through marriage or descent groups that has been proven in some societies to lead to social integrating, or the process of interaction with other individuals. When researching the case studies we have explored, I found that two main events that utilized kinship for social integrating were death and marriage.
In the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea, in the northern Kiriwina Island, is where the Trobrianders, studied by Anette Wiener(1988), live. Death in the Trobrianders is a momentous event full of mourning and economical organization. The death of someone is a detailed example of how kinship can lead to social integrating. Wiener explains, " The message of death spreads rapidly to other villages where the dead person has relatives or friends," showing that death is not only uses kinship to integrate individuals, but entire villages too. The Trobrianders are a matrilineal society, meaning that all descent groups and kinship recognition are passed through the mother. They are organize into dalas, matrilineal descent groups and kumilas, one of four named matrilineal clans. During Wiener's fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands, she experienced the death of an old chief, Uwelasi. The preparation of the burial of a dead person is a complicated division of responsibilities. These roles of obligation are filled by those in Uwelasi's dala and his kumila. All these people must come together, from other villages sometimes, to help with he planning of this event. A large part of Uwelasi's death was the distribution of his possessions, this involved the people from his dala assisted by those from his kumila as toliuli (workers) and those who were related to him through marriage or patrilineally as toliyouwa. The toliuli and toliyouwa are united through the man's death because of their cooperation and common responsibilities they share towards Uwelasi as his kinsmen.
Marriage, in the Trobrianders society is also a means of social integrating. Marriage can take place out side your village or inside your village, making integrating through kinship possible between individuals in a village and between two villages. When a young woman marries she must move to her husband's house. The parents of the wife bring food to the parents of the groom to make the make the arrangement official. First exchanges at marriage involve the two families and the offering of yams, beku, kuliya, etc.. These exchanges between respective matrilineal kinsmen is a cause of integrating brought about by possible future kinship.
The roles of marriage and death are obviously signification the Trobriand Islander's society but perhaps death more so than marriage. In contrast with the society of the Yanomamo marriage appears to play a more prominent role than in the Trobrianders.
The Yanomamo as studied by Napoleon Chagnon( ) located in the Venezuela, Brazilian border, use kinship through the fundamentals of marriage to develop social integrating. The Yanomano are a patrilineal society meaning that all descent groups and kinship recognition are passed through the father. Kinsmen have two names in a Patrilineal society, affines if they are marriage related and agnates if they are in your patrilineage, (father, brother, etc.). The Yanomamo practice reciprocal exogamy, a matrimonial idea of the trade of sisters between brothers for marriage. For example, a brother from village A who has a sister can trade his sister, as a wife, to another brother from village B for his sister, as a wife *diagram. This is balance trade of women between two individuals from separate villages; what relates this to kinship is the relationship of affines between marriage partners. The offering of women as wives, (affines) is also a means to established alliances between the neighboring villages.
Although, these are examples of kinship as mechanism to bring about social integration in the society, this is not always the case. The Yanomano axe fight that took place in the village of Mishimishimaboweiteri ( pop. 270), clearly is an example of how kinship can create hostile intention between villages and individuals. The people involved in the axe fight initially were Simabimi from the host village and Moheshiwa a visitor. The argument began when Moheshiwa demanded plaintains from Simabimi, when she refused he beat her. Simabimi's brother Uuha, (agnate and also a host) confronted Moheshiwa accompanied by his younger brother, sister, and mother, (hosts) this is when the was fight established. Later as the fight escalated, Simabimi's husband, (host) became involved and so did the kinsmen of Moheshiwa. Chagnon comments,"When you get a village this big this sort of thing is bound to happen." The words 'visitor' and 'host' , implies an occurrence that happens in Yanomamo society, it is called fissioning. Fissioning is when the ties between affines grow greater than the ties between agnates. This is understandable considering the Yanomamo's idealistic form of marriage between cross cousins and their practice of polygamy. Due to this brothers (agnates), are always in direct competition for wives making their relationships sometimes awkward and hostile. Thus an affine (brother in law), who a man is not in competition with can certainly grow closer over time than one's own agnate. The examples of fissioning and the ax fight are in direct contradiction with kinship always being a means of integrating. These two events both involve or are linked to arguments and separation caused by kinsmen relationships.
There are an infinite number of variables that cause integration among individuals, groups, villages, or society as a whole; and there can be no dispute that kinship is an important and frequent one of those variables. The inconsistency is assuming that kinship always functions as a mechanism for social integration in society. It is not possible to make generalizations like 'always', when discussing different societies. As we can see from the Yanomamo and Trobriand Islanders, societies can be very different in their culture, beliefs and traditions. There is only one safe generalization: All societies are different, you can always assume what works in one society may not always work in another.
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