Ju/'hoansi Kin Terms

The Ju/'hoansi, a San foraging group of the Kalahari Desert, provide another example of an Eskimo terminology, similar to English and many other European systems (Lee 2002:64-76) .

Ju/'hoan Kin Terms with Designations for Older Cousins

Nuclear family members (shaded in green) are assigned unique terms, and extended family members are grouped into categories on a bilateral basis without any distinction between father's and mother's sides. Thus we could provide an exact English gloss for any of the terms above: tsu = uncle, ga = aunt, kuna/tun = cousin, tsuma = nephew/niece.

The Ju/'hoansi pattern is typical for foraging societies in respect to two essential conditions:

Beyond these obvious features, however, this specific example has some percularities, which point out aspects of kinship terminology that are not covered by the standard sixfold division.

Ju/'hoan Kin Terms with Designations for Younger Cousins

While the speaker's gender is perhaps a minor feature of the system, relative age is quite significant and must be appreciated in terms of a broader structural feature that becomes apparent only when we extend the terminology to consider more distant generations as in the following six generation genealogy.

Identity of Alternating Generations, Older Relatives

The main feature that can now be observed is that the terms for older cousin (kuna/tun)are the same as the terms for grandparents, representing a principle that Lee identifies as an "equivalence of alternate generations". The same pattern is evident in the use of equivalent terms for:

The same patterning is reflected in the identification of younger cousins (kuma/tuma) with grandchildren as indicated below.

Identity of Alternating Generations, Younger Relatives

The relative age and alternate generation identities in the Juhoansi terminology are not mere oddities and complications. They reflect two central features of San social structure:

  1. joking and avoidance relationships, and
  2. namesake relationships.
©Brian Schwimmer
University of Manitoba
Created: Janurary 2001
Last updated: September 2003