Tech UPTechnologyWhich of these types of family would you like...

Which of these types of family would you like to belong to?


The human being forms family groups but each culture has its own definition of what the family is and who belongs to it. In ours we are united by biological consanguineous ties, but that does not imply that it is so in other parts of the planet. For example, among the islanders of the Trobriands (whose official name is the Kiriwina Islands), together with Papua New Guinea. This society was extensively studied by the British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the early 20th century. Trobriand society is organized around the maternal lineage (in anthropology it is said to be matrilineal), so every man belongs to his mother’s clan : that is his family. Being a father does not have the implications that it has on us; in fact it has none. He does not share substance or consanguinity with his children: fertilization serves simply to give him the resemblance, but nothing more, and his children call him “my mother’s husband” .

This organization of kinship has peculiar implications. For a man, women are divided into two broad categories, depending on their sexual accessibility: veryogu or “my relatives”, and he refers to them with the same term as his sister, luguta ; and lubaygu or “lovers”, whom he calls tabugu , which is the term he uses to refer to the father’s sister and his daughters. Having sexual relations with “the mother’s sister’s daughter” (the first cousin on the mother’s side) is a very serious crime whose discovery can lead to suicidal behavior , but not with a first cousin on the father’s side. As we can see, the terminology we use to refer to relatives defines kinship relationships, and one of the most peculiar is among the Crow Native Americans. In them the father, the father’s brother (our paternal uncle) and the father’s sister’s daughter’s son (our first cousin’s son) are designated under the same name.

The Bushman family

Another peculiar people are the !Kung San, the famous Bushmen of the Kalahari desert and one of the most studied societies by anthropologists. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas was one of the first researchers to make a complete study of her society in the 1950s. She discovered that women married very young, between 8 and 12 years old, before their first menstruation. Meanwhile, men married later, between the ages of 18 and 25, and some even at 30. However, husbands were not allowed to have sex with her until she was sexually mature : if this rule is not followed, the !Kung San believe that women go crazy. Meanwhile, the husband lives in the bride’s group (what anthropologists call uxorilocal residence) and must work for his in-laws, hunting for them, and wait several years to have relations with his wife.

This “bride service” is common in different societies in the Amazon, such as the Urarina people in northern Peru. Among the !Kung it ends when 10 years have passed or the third child has been born. Then the marriage is considered stable and they can live with the group they want, which is usually that of the husband (virilocal residence). Until a couple reaches this maturity, the spouses may have gone through other trial marriages and divorces, but the undeniable thing is that, as anthropologists who have studied hunter-gatherer societies have discovered, “exceeding the first five years or having several children it’s a good indicator that it can be a long-term marriage, which are not uncommon in those societies,” says anthropologist Janie E. Stockard.

If in the end there is a divorce, one of the spouses leaves the group: the remedy for all insoluble conflict. A divorced woman does not lose status and often remarries quickly. But a divorced man, like a single man, is a source of conflict because he needs a wife: in !Kung culture the ultimate goal of a man’s life is to marry. A single or divorced man does not have his own hut, and therefore he cannot receive and chat with other men, nor does he have the right to a fire where a woman prepares food for him with what she has collected during the day, nor does he participate in group meetings. . A single man is a marginal being , he is not an adult.

traditional chinese family

In China we find an extreme case of a patrilineal family. In traditional society, marriage is deeply intertwined with the political and economic position of the family and reflects the social hierarchy: betrothals are a family privilege and the bride and groom do not see each other until the day of the wedding . The relationship between husband and wife is totally unbalanced and is dictated by the prevailing moral philosophy, Confucianism, which locked women inside the house. Thus, the binding of the feet of Chinese women, the famous “lotus feet”, is the public demonstration of economic well-being in the family, since none of their women can go out to do agricultural work.

Chinese marriage has a moral duty: to maintain the paternal lineage by ensuring the birth of males. Daughters are born outside this line of descent and are never incorporated into it: only upon marriage are they admitted to the husband’s group. For this reason, it is a great misfortune for a woman to remain single, because as she is not a member of the family, she cannot die in the house where she was born. Only by joining her husband’s kinship group does she have a place to die. For a Chinese woman, the wedding is essential for the good of her soul , it is a spiritual necessity.

In the new house, that of her husband’s father, she has the lowest rank in the hierarchical structure and will work hard for her mother-in-law, who will supervise her daily tasks. The whole family will expect her to do her duty: give birth to a boy . In addition, she will have to fight with her sisters-in-law to get a good position within the family. To ensure her survival, she follows two basic strategies: strengthen her relationship with her husband and give birth to a child. Once done, he will create strong ties with him and will fight to win his grandfather’s affection, in competition with the rest of the grandchildren; Only then will your future be assured.

the nepali polygamy

More curious is the type of family that exists among the Nyinba of Nepal, who practice fraternal polyandry -as in South Asia, Tibet and India-, where several brothers are married to the same woman . If she has no children, a second sister may join the marriage, living in polygynous sororal polyandry, in kinship anthropology terminology. The selection of the wife is a prerogative of the older brother and he is the one who enjoys what we could call a honeymoon. It is not uncommon for a brother to be too young to enter into a sexual relationship, but he will marry her when he has matured. The woman must be very careful when sharing her affections and eliminate any favoritism on her part, knowing that all brother-husbands are fathers of their children, as Nancy Levine explains in her book The Dynamics of Polyandry . The underlying problem is that, despite the fact that the Nyinba believe that the best future for a woman is marriage, polyandry creates the peculiar situation that few women can marry . Nor is it an option to stay at her father’s house because it would be a source of problems due to the friction that would arise with her sister-in-law. So a single woman has two solutions: marry a man from outside Tibetan society or enter domestic service.

In view of all these cases, is there anyone who can define what constitutes a family?


Levine, N. (1988),  The Dynamics of Polyandry, Univrsidad de Chicago Press

Malinowski, B. (1922). Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul (nueva versión: Waveland Press, 2013)

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