Monday, July 18, 2011

9. Systems of Kinship:

9. Systems of Kinship:

(a) Family, household, marriage.


Definition of Family- Family is a durable association of man and woman along with or without children. They live together, pull their resources, work together and produce off springs.

Family as an Institution – Family is most important and pivotal institution among all the institutions of the societies. The main feature of the family is the person composed of family is related to each other by blood, marriage and adoption.

Sociologist George Murdock lists four important function of family.

i) regulate sexual relations;

ii) account for economic survival ;

iii) controls reproduction; and

iv) socialises children

Variations in Family Forms

By the Residence –

Patrilocal – Family takes up residence in husband’s home.

Matrilocal- Family takes up residence in wife’s home.

By the Issue of descent –

Patrilineal – The descent is traced through the male line.

Matrilineal- The descent is traced through the female line.

By the decision making authority- These are patriarchy-male dominant; matriarchy-female dominant

Yet another distinction is made between the conjugal family or family by marriage on the one hand and consanguine family or family by blood on the other, based on the membership type of the family. While the conjugal family consists of parents and their children, the consanguine family is made up of either parent and the units' blood relatives, such as, mother, her children, her parents or father, his children, his parents etc.

The nuclear family consists of a married couple and their children.

The extended family is commonly defined as the nuclear family plus all kin belonging

to either side, living together.

Universal Nature of Family - The family is tlie most permanent and pervasive of all social institutions.

There is no human society without any family system. All societies both large and small, primitive and civilised, ancient and modern, have institutionalised the process of procreation of the species and the rearing of the young. It is a permanent and universal institution and one of the constants of human life.

Biological Basis of the Family – The sexual character of reproduction which is the natural answer to the sexual drive of the human to which the family gives the legitimacy with the support of marriage.

Common Residence and Nomenclature – The family provides a common place of residence for its members which is very important for the bearing and rearing of the child. The family in which person is child is called family of orientation and the family in which the person is parent is called family of procreation.

Social Functions of the Family –

i) Member replacement and physical maintenance

In order to survive, every society must replace members who die and keep the survivors


ii) Regulation of sexual behaviour

iii) Socialisation of children

The family carries out the serious responsibility of socialising each child. Children are

taught largely by their families to conform to socially approved patterns of behaviour.

iv) Status transmission

Individual's social ibentity is initially fixed by family membership by being born to parents of a given status and characteristics. Children take on the socio-economic class standing of their parents and the culture of the class into which they are born, including its values, behaviour patterns and definitions of reality. In addition to internalising family attitudes and beliefs, children are treated and defined by others as extensions of the social identity of their parents. In short, family acts as a vehicle of culture transmission from generation to generation.

v) Economic activity

vi) Social emotional support

vii) Inter-institutional linkage

Role of Family in Industrial Society

Many sociologists feel that the family has lost a number of its fiinctions in modern industrial society. Institutions such as business, political parties, schools, welfare and recreational organisations, creche and play schools, now specialise in functions earlier performed only by the family. This reduces the dependency ofthe individual on his or her family and kin. The high rate of geographical mobility in industrial society decreases, the frequency and intimacy of contact among members ofthe kin-family network. The relatively high level of social mobility and the importance of 'achieved' status in modem

society have weakened the importance of family and its extended form since it has less

to offer to its members.


The Institution of Marriage- The institution of the marriage is very important social institution which provides a heterosexual relationship for bearing and rearing of children. Thus primarily marriage is way regulating reproduction and giving legitimacy to the children born by the wedlock which is very much important in matter of succession.

Forms of Marriage

Monogamy- The person will have one spouse at a time.

Polygamy – The person will have two or more living spouse at a time. Polygyny (one man two or more wives) and Polyandry(one woman with two or more husbands).

In Polygyny if a person marries the sisters then it is called sororal polygyny and In polyandry if a woman marries brothers then it is called fraternal polyandry.

Rules of Endogamy and Exogamy-

Endogamy is a form of marriage where a person has a matrimonial within a specified group such as caste.

Exogamy is a form of marriage which is outside the specified group such clan, lineage, sapind etc.

Among Hindus, there are over three hundred castes sub-castes and each one of them is endogamous. Despite modernising trends in India, which Among Hindus, there are over three hundred casteslsub- castes and each one of them is endogamous. Despite modernising trends in India, which have diluted caste restrictions in many respects, inter-caste marriages are still few and mostly limited to educated urban individuals. Although the norms of caste endogamy were widely prevalent, Hindu scriptures by allowing anuloma and pratiloma marriages, institutionalised, to a limited extent, inter-caste marital

alliances. The anuloma marriage permits an alliance betweena lower class woman and higher caste man, while the pratiloma marriage is an alliance between higher caste woman and a lower caste man. The former is referred to by the sociologists as hypergamy and the latter as hypogamy.

Rules of exogamy among Hindus are very specific. Hindus are traditionally prohibited from marrying in their own gotra, pravara and sapinda (gotra, pravara and sapinda refer to a group of individuals assumed to have descended from a paternal or maternal ancestor and are variously termed as clan, sib or lineage). The Hindu Marriage Act (1955) forbids marriage between sapinda, and specifies

that marriage between two persons related within five generations on the father's side and three on the mother's side is void, unless permitted by local custom.

Mate Selection In India, considerations of caste, religious and family background have traditionally

been of great importance i2 selection of mates. In addition, looks of the girl and her competence as housewife, are also considered to be important. In urban middle class families, the earning capacity of the girl is also given considerable weightage, these days, in the selection of a bride.

Preferential Marriage - marriage with particular cross cousins (father's, sister's or mother's brother's offsprings) are approved or permitted in many societies. Among Arabs and Muslims in India,

marriage between parallel cousins (child of father's brother or mother's sister) is common. Possible reasons for permitting or preferring cousin marriages are: (a) family wealth is not dispersed as it remains within related family groups; and (b) relationships do not fade away as they are constantly renewed among offsprings of related families.

Love Marriage - In the western urban-industrial method of mate selection, individuals go through the

process of dating and courtship, they make selections, based on the consideration of feelings for one another. This is termed as 'love marriage' by AsiansIIndians.

There is an important difference between love marriage and arranged marriage. Whereas in the latter at the individual's level one has vague expectations from marriage (in fact, individuals enter into it primarily for performing their social duty), in self-choice marriage there are great expectations of happiness and companionship from one's partner in marriage. However, these are not very easy to attain and retain in day-today life after marriage, where practical problems of existence confront the couple. Mature personalities are able to adjust to this gap between dream and reality. The less

mature find it difficult to adjust. At times the gap between fantasy of romantic love and exigencies of practical life is so wide that the strain becomes impossible to bear and marriage ends in a failure.

Mate selection among Tribals –

i) Selection by purchase and service - Mate selection 'by purchase' is the most prevalent practice. In this. bride-price has to be paid to the girl's parents. The amount of bride-price rates from a nominal price (as

in case of Regma Naga) to such a high price (as in case of Ho) that many young men and women have to remain unmarried. Some tribes (Gond) have found a way out of the high bride-price. The would-be

groom lives and works in his would-be father-in law's house as a suitor-servant for a number of years before he can ask for the girl's hand in marriage. Another way of avoiding the payment of bride-price is through an exchange of girls women among eligible families.

ii) Youth dormitories- Tribes having youth dormitories provide a wide scope for the youth to choose their mates. Therefore, marriage by mutual consent with parents approval has been the: gqneral practice. Where parents object, elopement is a solution. Eventually the parents welcome the couple's return.

iii) Selection by capture- Mate selection 'by capture' has been a feature of Naga, Ho, Bhil and Gond tribes. Among Nagas, female infanticide was resorted to because of fear of raids for bride capturing. Among the Gond capture takes place often at the instance of parents of the bride and amongst the Ho it is prearranged. Besides physical capture, there is also a ceremonial capture. Among Central Indian tribes peaceful captures are effected on the occasion of certain inter village festivals.

iv) Selection by trial -Mate selection by trial also exists among some tribals. A young Bhil has to prove his

prowess before he can claim the hand of any girl. This is generally done through is dance game. On Holi festival, young women dancers make a circle around a tree or pole on which a coconut and gud are tied. The men folk make an outer ring. The trial of strength begins when a young man attempts to break the inner circle in order to reach the treelpole. The women resist his attempt with all their might; and in case the man is able to reach tlie tree and eat the gud and break open tlie coconut. He can choose any girl from the surrounding inner circle, as his wife. Cases are reported among some tribals, where a girl desirous of marrying an unwilling mate thrusts herself on him, bears all humiliations and harsh treatment till the man yields. Such a marriage is termed as marriage by intrusion. In addition to the above-mentioned ways of mate selection, probationary marriages are also reported among tlie Kuki, who permit ayoung man and woman to live together at the girls home for some weeks, and then decide whether to get married or not. In case they decide to separate, the young man has to pay cash compensation to the girl's parents.

Changes in Marriage -

Changes in the Forms of Marriage In most of the polygamy societies now polygamous marriages are fading away and in spite monogamous marriage are taking the place. These due to the elevated position of women in the society and also the finances in this time are not sufficient to meet out the expenses of polygamy.

Changes in Mate Selection- Now in this post industrialised society person are having a say in the selection of their mates. They are now allowed to meet each other and know each other before they start a married life.

Changes in Age of Marriage - With increasing enrolment of girls in schools and colleges, and their desire to take up employment, along with the problems of 'settling down7 in life for the vast majority of boys, the age at marriage is perforce being pushed up. Further, as part of its population policy, the Government has now prescribed the minimum age of marriage as 18 years for girls and 20 years for boys. In urban areas, however, marriages are now generally taking place beyond these prescribed minimum ages.

Changes in Marriage Rituals and Customs

Changes in Marriage: Goals and Stability - As procreation, and along with it parenting role, are tending to become less important, other function like companionship and emotional support from the spouse and children are becoming the more important goals of marriage. In fact, the younger people today

are entering matrimony for happiness and personal fulfilment.


Significance of Kinship Kinship is a set of persons which are close relatives by virtue of blood relations technically known as consanguinity or by marriages which is referred as affinity.

Basic Concepts of Kinship

The Principles of Descent Descent is the principle whereby a child is socially affiliated with the group of his or her parents. In some societies the child is regarded as a descendant equally of both the

father and the mother, except that titles and surnames are usually passed down along the male line. Such a system is termed Bilateral or Cognatic.

Types of Descent

Descent is reckoned UNILINEALLY, that is, in one line only. The child is affiliated either with the group of the father, that is, PATRILINEAL DESCENT, or with the group of the mother, that is, MATRILINEAL DESCENT.

Functions of Descent Groups

Unilineal descent groups tend to be 'corporate' in several other senses. Their members may often come together for ritual and ceremonial functions, for instance, for collective worship of lineage gods, totems or ancestors. The descent group will have a built-in authority structure, with power normally exercised

by senior males, and it may well own corporate property. An individual's economic rights and responsibilities will be defined by his or her position in the descent group.

the principle of COMPLEMENTARY FILIATION which explains the significant ritual and social

roles of the mother's brother(s) in the lives of their sister's children.

Inheritance Rules

In India certain types of property pass from father to son, and other types form mother to daughter. In

most parts of India, in the past, immovable property such as land and housing, was inherited only by sons. In the absence of sons, except under rare circumstances, by the nearest male relatives on the father's side. One the other hand, movable property in the form of cash and jewellery was given to the daughter at the time of her marriage, with a certain amouqt of jewellery also passing from the mother-in-law to the daughter-in-law.

Rules of Residence

If husband and wife set up their own independent home after marriage, as is usually the case in modern western society, residence is said to be NEOLOCAL. Where the wife goes to live with the husband in his parents' home, residence is described as VIRILOCAL, PATRILOCAL, or PATRIVIRILOCAL, and where the husband moves to live with the wife, it is termed MATRILOCAL.

Patriarchy and Matriarchy

A society is said to have a patriarchal structure when a number of factors coincide, i.e. when descent is reckoned patrilineally, when inheritance of major property is from father to sol;, when residence is patrilocal, and when authority is concentrated in the hands of senior males. There is, however, no society on earth, nor any society actually known to have existed, whose features are the exact reverse of these. For even in matrilineal, matrilocal systems, which are fairly rare, major property is usually controlled by males. And authority is normally exercised by males, though women may well have a higher status in the family and greater powers of decision-making than in the patriarchal set up.

For this reason, the term 'matriarchy', though often found in the literature, is probably a misnomer, best avoided.

Descent Systems - Further Details

The patrilineal descent systems of India have many of the features noted in similar groups elsewhere. A boy at birth becomes a member of his descent group, and a coparcener (partner) in a joint estate. A girl, by contrast, is only a residual member of her natal group: at merriage she is incorporated into her husband's descent group and ultimately (i.e. after her death) offered worship by their male descendants. Residence, as we have already noted, is usually partilocal.

Patrilineal Descent

In 'patriarchal' model of society. This has patrilineal descent, patrilocal residence, inheritance from father to son, and authority in the hands of seniors as against juniors, and males as against females. A number of social practices testify to the fact that a woman's only legitimate roles are those ofwife and mother. Spinsterhood and widowhood are inauspicious and unenviable conditions. A girl is regarded as merely a guest in her natal home and, initially at least, as a rather threatening outsider in her marital home.

The patrilineal systems of the south are not so markedly patriarchal as those of the north. Also a wplnan after marriage continues to have materially and psychologically important relations with members of her natal group. This is more so with her parents and her brothers, and the residual right to maintenance in their estate in adverse circumstances. And in many other partilineal systems, the mother's brothers have significant ritual and social roles in the lives oftheir sister's children, and an especially tender and affectionate relationship with them.

Matrilineal Descent

Matrilineal descent systems, of which there are several well-known examples in southwestern and north-eastern India, have their own distinctive characteristics. Empirically you never find matrilineal systems that are an exact inverse of the patrilineal-patriarchal model which we liave already described and which is fairly well approximated by the patrilineal descent systems of north and south (but especially north) India. The reason is quite simple: whatever tlie descent system, that is, matrilineal, patrilineal or indeed bilateral, authority is usually exercised by males, only in extremely simple societies

one comes across a fair degree of mutual inter-dependence between males and females. Also, though rights, in property might be determined by the principles of matrilineal descent (for instance, passing from mother to daughter or from mother's brother to sister's son rather than from father to son as in patrilineal societies), major property is usually controlled (if not actually owned) by males.

For obvious reasons, residence arrangements are problematic in matrilineal societies.

A man may not have authority over his own children, who belong to his wife's descent group and who may also reside after maturity with their mother's brother. Conversely, in cases wliere the husband customarily resides with his wife and children, he may have difficulty managing the property in which lie has an interest by virtue of descent, and in exercising authority over his sister's children. In other words, there seems to be some sort of contradiction in matrilineal kinship systems, brought out in the dilemma

over residence, between a man's role as father and his role as mother's brother. His natural love for his own children might easily come into conflict with his special jural responsibilities towards his sister's children.

Nayars of Kerala: An Illustration

Among the matrilineal Nayars of Kerala, formerly, men resided in large and matrilineally recruited joint families, called taravad, along witli their sisters, sister's children and sister's daughter's children. They visited their wives in other taravads at night (this is why the system has been popularly called tlie 'visiting husband' system). Their own children resided with their mother in their mother's taravad. In this system the bond between brother and sister was strongly emphasised, and the bond between husband

and wife correspondingly de-emphasised, this is more so because Nayar women could legitimately have a number of visiting husbands (polyandry), provided they were of the correct status (i.e. higher status Nayars or Namboodiri Brahmans). Also, Nayar men could liave a number of wives (polygyny). In fact, the marital bond was so minimised among the Nayars that anthropologists have debated endlessly whether Nayar society liad the institution of marriage at all! Anthropologists have also cited that the Nayar system disproves the proposition that the elementary or nuclear family is a "universal" human institution. The details of these debates need not detain us here. Indeed, the unique institutions and customs described by the anthropologists no longer exist and have not existed for generations, but tlie Nayar case is a useful one for illustrating the types of tensions that seem to be coming into matrilineal systems. They laid rather unique way of coping with what anthropologists have called 'the matrilineal

puzzle'. Effectively they ensured the unity of the matrilineal at the expense of the

solidarity of the marital bond between husband and wife.

Other Matrilineal Communities

There are many other matrilineal communities in India whose kinship organisation is rather different to that of the Nayars. For instance, the Khasis of Assam are matrilineal in descent, inheritance and succession, and practise matrilocal residence. The youngest daughter is the heiress, and lives in her mother's house alone with their husband and their children. The older daughter however may move out of the matrilineal household on marriage and make new nuclear families; their husbands have greater independent. authority than does the husband of the youngest daughter still residing martrilocally.

The Garo, also of Assam, have yet another arrangement. Marriage is matrilocal for the husband of the daughter who becomes the head of the household and its manager. A rule of preferential cross-cousin marriage ensures that a man is succeeded in this position by his sister's son in an ongoing alliance relationship between the two linked lineages.

Kinship in India

Iravati Karve, the famous sociologist, had described. In the Southern Zone, you usually find a preference for marriage with certain categories of close kin, in particular with one or the other or both of the cross-cousins (but never parallel cousins), or even with the elder sister's daughter. On the whole, the intermarrying groups are of comparable status. Though the actual marriage relationship might give rise to a temporary inferiority of wife-givers in relations to wife-takers. The marriage will probably involve groups which are geographically quite proximate even from the same village-and the bride will already be familiar with her in-laws. You don't really expect a young bride to be badly treated by her mother-in-laws if that woman is also her aunt or her maternal grandmother!

In north India, by contrast, marriages are never between persons who are already closely related. A rule of village exogamy also ensures that brides are given to and taken from other villages or towns, often at a considerable distance. The bride therefore comes to her husband's family as a 'stranger'. She will always be suspected of trying to alienate her husband's affections, and will usually be blamed for the break up of the joint family, should a partition subsequently take place. The distinction between

'daughters' and 'brides' is very sharply emphasised in this system (think of the practice of veiling), and the new bride's position is relatively vulnerable, unless and until she becomes the mother of a son. In this region it is also often the case that marriages unite groups whose social status is already unequal, the wife-givers being of inferior status to the wife-takers (hypergamy), while the marriage transaction commonly (though again not invariably) takes the form of a 'dowry' payment. However legally taking

dowry or giving it, both have become illegal offences punishable by the state. But, in reality it continues to affect a large category of people in India. Even other religions, such as, Muslims, Christians and SCISTs are getting influenced by it. All in all, we have in this combination of features the social-structural locale of also such practices as levirate marriage, sati, female infanticide and, lately, 'bride-burning' or dowry deaths.

Other differences between the northern and southern systems noted by Iravate Karve (and others) relate to the rules of descent, inheritance and marriage. In brief, the northern zone is universally patrilineal, though patrilineal systems are also found among different communities in the southern or dravidian zone, along with a variety of residence * patterns. We should add here that there are a number of important matrilineal groups (for instance the Khasis and the Garos) in north-eastern India (eastern zone) as well. as. Of course, the division of the kinship may develop into major culture areas zones can give only a very crude idea of the salient variations in kinship practices throughout the

subcontinent. A more precise picture emerges when one considers the sub-regional varieties corresponding to the different regional languages and dialects. In analysing these regional kinship systems, scholars pay attention not only to kinship terminologies and to the way the people concerned speak about kinship relations and about the moral obligations that stem from them, but also to the data of ritual practices, gift exchanges folklore and other forms of cultural communication.

1 comment:

  1. Very simple and precise explanation.
    Examples are awesome.
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