Unilineal Descent
Structural Alternatives

Having outlined the basic methods of tracing unilineal descent relationships, we must now turn to an investigation of how they are actually applied to the organization of specific societies. This undertaking will involve a consideration of the structure and function of groups and social roles based on matrilineal or patrilineal principles. Several ethnographic examples will be covered to illustrate both the ideals of kinship involved and the practical management of on-the-ground social relationships.

The examples chosen are:

Culture

Descent Rule

Location

Wider Society

Akan

Matrilineal

West African forest

State

Igbo

Patrilineal
(also Matrilineal and Dual Descent variations)

West African forest

Tribal

Hebrews

Patrilineal

Middle East

State

Yanomamo

Patrilineal

Amazon forest

Tribal

Turkish

Patrilineal

Middle East

Peasantry

Dani

Patrilineal

New Guinea

Tribal

The preponderance of patrilineal examples is in part due to the fact that systems that trace descent exclusively through males are much more frequent that matrilineal cases (at roughly twice the incidence). More importantly, patrilineal systems show a much greater range of variation in the recruitment of individuals into descent groups and the modes of property inheritance and status succession.

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© 1995 Brian Schwimmer, All rights reserved
Department of Anthropology
University of Manitoba