i’ve been trying to get my head around the different types of kinship terminologies that people around the world use. i remember from anthro 101 that anthropologists seem to be particularly obsessed with kinship terminologies, but at the time i couldn’t figure out why. i still can’t figure out why, actually, ’cause from what i can tell, most anthropologists don’t seem to be bothered by actual genetic relationships or how related different individuals within a society are to one another and how marriage patterns can affect that. maybe i’m doing anthropologists a disservice — do let me know if i’m wrong about this — but i don’t think i am.
anyway, for instance — let’s take the hawaiian kinship system first. it’s one of the easiest to remember: everyone of your own generation is called ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ (in hawaiian, of course), and everyone of your parents’ generation is called ‘father’ or ‘mother.’ cool, huh?
but i can’t find anyone anywhere explaining why the hawaiians (and some other malayo-polynesians) should use this system. oh, sure, there’s lots of talk about communal living and how, traditionally, kids were raised by groups of adults … but really … that’s the best you got?
how about this: traditionally, a certain portion (dunno how much) of hawaiian marriages were group marriages. (kinky, huh?) groups of brothers would share their wives in common; or groups of sisters would share their husbands. it might even be that it was a group of brothers PLUS a group of sisters.
soooo … if we envision this group as everyone in a small village or hamlet, then you may as well call all the adults mom and dad ’cause you can’t be sure which ones really are your mom and dad!
well, actually, it’s usually pretty obvious who your mom is … but it might be very hard to tell who your dad is if your mom has been sleeping around (not YOUR mom, of course. she would never do that!). and if she’s been sleeping around with a bunch of brothers, it might be hard to pick out which one you look like (and, therefore, which one is prolly your dad) ’cause the brothers prolly all look kinda alike.
and as for everyone in your generation — well, any number of them might actually be your half- or full- brothers and sisters, so you may as well just call them all “brother” or “sister.”
(in reality, a lot of the adult “brothers” and “sisters” — i.e. the dads and the moms — might be cousins not siblings, or not just siblings, so then all the kids are half brothers and sisters and|or cousins. or something like that. i dunno. it’s very complicated.)
“We now come to another type of group-unions, where a group of brothers are represented as married or having access to a group of sisters; and since these groups are said to consist of brothers and sisters in the classificatory sense, they would be of considerable size.
“The classical instance of this sort of group-unions is the punalua system of the Sandwich Islanders [Hawaiians]. Judge Lorin Andrews wrote in 1860 to Morgan:— “The relationship of punalua is rather amphibious. It arose from the fact that two or more brothers with their wives, or two or more sisters with their husbands, were inclined to possess each other in common; but the modern use of the word is that of dear friend or intimate companion.” The Rev. A. Bishop, who sent Morgan a schedule of the Hawaian system of relationship terms, observed that the “confusion of relationships” was “the result of the ancient custom among relatives of the living together of husbands and wives in common.” Dr. Bartlett wrote, “Husbands had many wives and wives many husbands, and exchanged with each other at pleasure.” Dr. Rivers remarks that side by side with the presence of individual marriage as a social institution there existed among the Sandwich Islanders much laxity, and also “a definite system of cicisbeism in which the paramours had a recognised status. Of these paramours those who would seem to have had the most definite status were certain relatives, viz. the brothers of the husband and the sisters of the wife. These formed a group within which all the males had marital rights over all the females”; and Dr. Rivers was told that even now, nearly a century after the general acceptance of Christianity, the rights of punalua “are still sometimes recognised, and give rise to cases which come before the law courts where they are treated as cases of adultery. In addition to these punalua who had a recognised status owing to their relationship to the married couple, there were often other paramours apparently chosen freely at the will of the husband and wife.”
westermarck expresses some doubts about the accuracy of the reports on the hawaiians, but he was also doubtful about reports on australian aboriginal systems of kinship and marriage and they turned out to be correct (i.e. that you couldn’t marry within your own moiety). it could very well be that the punalua system in hawaii was real, but westermarck had a hard time believing it to be true.
engels (yes, that engels!) wrote about another group of people who seem to have had the same kinship naming system as the hawaiians and a similar marriage practice:
“At the session of October 10 (Old Style; October 22, New Style) of the Anthropological Section of the Society of the Friends of Natural Science, N. A. Yanchuk read an interesting communication from Mr. Sternberg on the Gilyaks, a little-studied tribe on the island of Sakhalin, who are at the cultural level of savagery. The Gilyaks are acquainted neither with agriculture nor with pottery; they procure their food chiefly by hunting and fishing; they warm water in wooden vessels by throwing in heated stones, etc. Of particular interest are their institutions relating to the family and to the gens. The Gilyak addresses as father, not only his own natural father, but also all the brothers of his father; all the wives of these brothers, as well as all the sisters of his mother, he addresses as his mothers; the children of all these ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ he addresses as his brothers and sisters. This system of address also exists, as is well known, among the Iroquois and other Indian tribes of North America, as also among some tribes of India. But whereas in these cases it has long since ceased to correspond to the actual conditions, among the Gilyaks it serves to designate a state still valid today. To this day every Gilyak has the rights of a husband in regard to the wives of his brothers and to the sisters of his wife; at any rate, the exercise of these rights is not regarded as impermissible. These survivals of group marriage on the basis of the gens are reminiscent of the well-known punaluan marriage, which still existed in the Sandwich Islands in the first half of this century.“
if these ethnographic accounts are correct, then i can’t see why anyone wouldn’t conclude that the reason for the hawaiian kinship naming system is due to the genetic relatedness between the members of the group. any of the male adults in the generation before you might be your father (so you might as well call them all “dad”), and any or all of the guys and gals in your own generation might be your half-, or even full-, brothers or sisters — not to mention that many of them are also your cousins (so you might as well call them all “brother” or “sister”.)
(note: comments do not require an email. or a long-form hawaiian birth-certificate.)