PIE kinship and marriage

(<< see what i did there? PIE? geddit? (~_^) )

historical linguists have worked out what they think (there are debates within the discipline, of course) were the likely kinship terms in proto-indo-european (PIE). i’m not going to get into the terms here, but you can read all about them in Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical of a Proto-language and a Proto-culture, in chapter seven — “The social organization, economy, and kinship system of the ancient Indo-Europeans” — starting on page 643 (for something of an opposing viewpoint, see chapter five — “Proto-Indo-European Kinship” — here).

to get straight to the point, it seems that pretty much all of the historical linguistics working on PIE agree that the proto-indo-europeans probably had an omaha kinship system (where they disagree is on how to interpret the signficance of that, for example, did the proto-indo-europeans marry their…wait for it…cousins?). they haven’t actually worked out what the proto-indo-europeans called their cousins — whether they had just one word (like us) or several words (like the chinese or the arabs) — but they have figured out via the naming of other relatives (like uncles and grandfathers) that the system was an omaha one.

the omaha kinship system looks like this (real world kinship systems often vary a bit from these schematic outlines, so you should keep in mind that while the PIE system was probably close to this scheme, it may not have necessarily matched it perfectly — click on image for LARGER view):

omaha kinship

the notable points about this system are that: 1) ego’s paternal uncle (his father’s brother) is called the same term as his father, and his mother’s sister is called the same as his mother; 2) therefore, the children of these uncles and aunts (ego’s cousins) are called the same as his siblings; 3) for some whacky reason that i don’t fully grok yet, ego’s mother’s brother is called the same thing as ego’s PATernal grandfather, therefore those cousins are actually called “(grand)father” and “mother” (i.e. there’s a generational shift in the terminology — on the right of the diagram); and 4) at the other end of the family (diagram), ego’s father’s sister is called “sister” and his cousins there are called “nephew” and “niece.”

don’t worry, you don’t have to learn all that! this material will not be included in the final exam. the important point here is that the naming of the cousins might give us some indications of which cousins (if any) were considered marriage material and which were off-limits. my thinking on first looking at this omaha system was that 1) the cousins called the same thing as siblings (fbd and mzd) must be off-limits — who marries their siblings? and 2) the cousins called the same thing as “mom” (mbd) DEFINITELY must be off-limits — who marries their MOM?! =/

in my view, the only available cousins to marry in this scheme appear to be the father’s sister’s daughter (fzd) who is called “niece.” plenty of peoples have uncle-niece marriage, so that concept isn’t (that) strange at all. (to be fair, a few populations with omaha kinship systems do manage to marry their mbds — the cousins called “mom” — but they typically have all sorts of purification rituals surrounding those marriages — ’cause, ewwww!)

however, the general consensus of the PIE researchers seems to be that both cross-cousins — the fzd AND the mbd — were probably marriage material as far as the proto-indo-europeans were concerned. the only question is, to what extent did they marry these cousins? who knows. that is simply impossible to say. (again, there are some dissenting voices out there wrt cousin marriage among the PIE speakers).

gamkrelidze and ivanov are some of the historical linguists who think that mbd marriage was probably possible, too, despite the ewwww-factor of marrying someone you call mom. mbd is the most common form of cousin marriage there is, so maybe proto-into-europeans did, indeed, marry them, too [pg. 671]:

“The fact that individuals bearing different kinship relations are called by the same term — father’s father and mother’s brother, grandson and sister’s son — can be explained if we assume that they were functionally identical from ego’s viewpoint. This reconstructed system points to a close consanguineal relation between the father’s father and mother’s brother, as is possible in a dual-exogamous cross-cousin marriage system, where a man can marry his mother’s brother’s daughter or father’s sister’s daughter, both of whom belng to the other lineal group.”

proto-indo-europeans are thought to have had a patrilineal family system — descent was reckoned primarly through the father’s line — and patrilocal residence — a woman would leave her family upon marriage and go live with her husband and his family. finally, they had clans [pg. 652 — i’m missing the PIE script formatting here]:

“7.4.1. The Indo-European word for ‘kin, clan’

“One of the basic structural units of ancient Indo-European society was the kin grouping *k’en-(th-) ‘clan, tribe, kin collectivity’. The stem is etymologically related to *k’en- ‘give birth’ (Skt. janati ‘gives birth’, OLat. geno ‘(I) give birth’, Gk. gignomai ‘(I) issue from, come from’, etc. The word for ‘clan’, etc. is a derivative in *-th- from this root, a formation well preserved in a number of early Indo-European dialects….

“In Italic the Proto-Indo-European word for ‘clan’, etc. is represented by Lat. gens, gen. gentis ‘clan; kinship grouping; tribe’. In Germanic the root is attested in a derivative, Goth. kindins ‘clan leader’ (from *k’enthi-nos)….”

so, the PIE speakers were: a patrilineal, patrilocal, clannish people who probably married their cross-cousins to some extent.

that is all!

previously: more on inbreeding in germanic tribes and archaic greek mating patterns and kinship terms

(note: comments do not require an email. pie!)

this one’s for g.w.

(^_^)

from Ecological Sensitivity and Resistance of Cultures in Asia (southeast asia in particular) published in 1978(!):

“Ecological influences on culture have been demonstrated by several investigators. Many such studies have been done in Asia where two ecological niches extend over vast areas. One of these is the highland or mountainous territory 500 meters above sea level; the other consists of plains and plateaus under 500 meters….

“…The HRAF files were used to compare cultures in the highlands with those in the lowlands. The files indicate that certain items may be ecology sensitive (that is, more apt to change with ecologic shift). These include agricultural methods, sociopolitical organization and preferred marriage forms….

“Sociopolitical Organization. … Lowland societies had larger communities, larger states, more nonhereditary local head-men, complex social distinctions, and exogamy. More lowland [sic – should be upland] groups had small communities, small states, hereditary headmen, no exogamy, and less complex class distinctions.

“Family, Marriage and Kinship. … Eskimo/Hawaiian cousin terms corresponded to the quadrilateral/nonlateral cousin marriages found in lowland cultures. Iroquois/Omaha/Crow cousin terms were found in association with matrilineal/patrilineal cousin marriages in the highlands….”

eskimo kinship terms are the ones that we use in the anglo/western world, and the eskimo kinship system is a very generalized one — eg. we don’t distinguish between maternal or paternal cousins, they’re all just “cousins.” so lowland southeast asians have similar kinship terms to us — or they use the hawaiian system which is even more generalized — all your brothers and male cousins are just “brother” and all your sisters and female cousins are just “sister.”

the iroquois, omaha, and crow systems used by the uplanders are all more complex, each distinguishing cousins in different ways — but none of them are as complex as the sudanese system which is the one used in the arab world — and in china. and it used to be used by the anglo-saxons before the Big Change in kinship terms in medieval europe.

“…Discussion

“As observed by previous students of southeast Asia, the most parsimonious explanation for these sociopolitical and marriage findings is the production of surplus food in the lowlands. Intensive agriculture favors both increased population density and increased total population. Communities become larger, nation states are formed, and kingship comes into existence. The cetripetal nature of kingship government probably accounts for nonhereditary local headmen replacing hereditary headmen. Surplus rice allows a money economy, towns, a priestly class, social stratification, teachers, and writing.

“Swidden agriculturists in the highlands, on the other hand, maintain simple social and political organization. Small groups migrate more easily, keeping themselves politically and socially intact during and after the move. Each family, even that of the village chief, must raise its own food. Class stratification is simple and large towns are nonexistent. There are part-time shamans, but no priestly class. Even though writing systems (such as Chinese ideography) are near at hand and readily usable, absence of surplus food and large communities obstruct the development of literacy. Such small autonomous communities, numbering between 50 and 400 persons, do not form nation states.

These data again demonstrate the political role of preferred marriage forms. Exogamy and lack of cousin marriage within large lowland nation-states aid in uniting disparate clans and villages. By contrast, the absence of exogamy and the presence of preferred cousin marriage intensify relationships within the small upland social units. Among both societies, the preferred marriage types comprise a social strategy that reinforces the political organization of the group.

yup!

i wonder if these se asian “swidden agriculturalists” are/were also pastoralists (since cousin marriage and pastoralism seem to go together — see the arab world), or if just living in a marginal — and remote — upland environment is enough to push a group towards inbreeding, irregardless of whether one’s group is pastoralist or agriculturalist?

(note: comments do not require an email. dreamed i was an eskimo….)