Australian Aborigines and Their Complex Kinship

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 8 January 2017

Australian Aborigines and Their Complex Kinship

Aborigines have a complex system in relation to their social and marriage laws, based on the grouping of people within their society. To understand the complexities of their social organization, consider it this way: divide it first into three main parts. The first part is the physical structuring of society in terms of numbers – family, horde and tribe. Second, the religious structuring based on beliefs and customs, totems and marriage laws. (Kinship, 2005) These beliefs divide people into sections and subsections, totemic groups and clans. Third, there is also a kinship system that gives a social structuring.

The social structuring and kinship system can become very difficult to understand for non-Aboriginal people, but is a natural part of life for Aborigines, and its details vary from tribe to tribe. There are three main aspects of Aboriginal social structure. The first aspect is the geographical structuring of the society. A tribe of around 500 people is made up of bands of about ten to twenty people each. (Australian, 2012) They join together for day to day hunting and food gathering activities. Each band of people can be called a horde. Within each horde are a number of families.

The second part is the religious and totemic structuring of the society. On a religious level the society in much of Australia is divided into two moieties. Within each moiety are significant animals, plants, or places, which are of a highly religious nature. Each person, as well as belonging to one or the other moiety, is also connected to one or more of these subjects, called totems. The third part of their social structuring is the relationships between people, otherwise the kinship system. The kinship system allows each person in Aboriginal society to be named in relation to one another.

When Aborigines acknowledge an outsider into their group, they have to name that person in relation to themselves, to allow that person to fit into their society, because they need to have in their own minds the kinship relation of that person to themselves, and that person must have a defined social position. The value of a kinship system is that it structures people’s relationships, responsibilities and manners towards each other. This in turn defines such matters as, who they will have look after children if a parent dies, who can marry whom, who is accountable for another person’s debts and who will care for the sick, weak and old.

The kinship system allows individual naming for up to 70 connection terms in some tribes. (Australian, 2012) It is the system where brothers of one’s father are also called, in one sense, father. Cousins may be called brother or sister. A person knows who their real mother and father are, but under kinship laws, they may have similar family obligations to their aunts and uncles, the same as they would to their mother and father, and this is shared. These groups are further described as tribes.

In Australia, tribes are really language groups, made up of people sharing the same language, customs, and general laws. The people of a tribe share a common bond and in their own language, their word for man is often the word used for the name of the tribe. For example, in Arnhem Land, people are called Yolgnu because Yolgnu name for man. People from another tribe are outsiders, because a tribe is like a small country with its own language, some tribal groups also use the term nation to describe themselves, such as the Larrakeyah tribe around Darwin calling itself the Larrakeyah Nation.

(Kinship, 2005) Tribes were generally not a war- making group and people generally use their moiety or clan name to describe themselves individually, rather than their tribal name. There were an estimated 500 Aboriginal tribes in Australia at the time of European settlement. Out of all of those tribes about 400 of them are still together. (Australian, 2012) Throughout Australia the moiety system divides all the members of a tribe into two groups. These two groups are based on a connection with certain animals, plants, or other pieces of their environment.

(Kinship, 2005) When a person is born into one or the other group it does not change throughout their life. A person belonging to one moiety has to marry a person of the opposite moiety. This is called an exogamous system, meaning that marriage has to be external to the group. The clan is an important unit in Aboriginal society, having its own name, territory and is the land-owning unit. A clan is a group of about forty to fifty people with a common territory and totems and having their own group name. (Kinship, 2005) It consists of groups of extended families.

Usually, men born into the clan remain in the clan territory. Not all members of a clan live on the clan territory. The sisters and daughters of one clan go to live on their husbands’ clan territory. A horde is an economic group that consists of a number of families who band together for hunting and food gathering activities. (Kinship, 2005) A horde is not a distinct group in the minds of Aborigines. Different members of these groups may be contained within the horde. At the main camp, the horde separates into family groups who each have their own camp fire and cook and eat separately.

A family group can be quite large, consisting of a man and his wives, the children from each wife, and sometimes his parents or in-laws. A man often has from two to four wives, ranging from one to more than ten. Today, most men have just one wife. Aboriginal custom all over Australia bans a person from talking directly to their mother in law. This rule applies to both men and women talking to their mother in law. (Kinship, 2005) To allow this rule to work, communication took place by using a third person.

When food was divided and shared around campfires, a mother in law had a small fire of her own separate to her son in law or daughter in law and their spouse. Her own daughter or son would chat and bring over some of the meat, or perhaps a grandchild would sit with her and act as messenger between herself and her daughter or son’s partner. This is completely different from my own society. A man having more than one wife is frowned upon, we do not need to name a person to welcome them into our lives and we can certainly speak with our mother in laws.

Our society is not as strict as that of the Aboriginal when referring to our kinship. Our kinship does not affect behaviors in my own life. I do not need to hunt, garden or eat with other people. References “Australian Aborigine”. Encyclop? dia Britannica. Encyclop? dia Britannica Online. Encyclop? dia Britannica Inc. , 2012. Web. 11 Jun. 2012 <http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/43876/Australian-Aborigine/256937/Kinship-marriage-and-the-family>. “Kinship and Skin Names”. Central Land Council. Central Land Council Inc. ,2005 http://www. clc. org. au/articles/info/aboriginal-kinship.

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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 8 January 2017

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