AIS Midterm - AIS 100 Midterm 1. To understand the Navajo...

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AIS 100 Midterm 1. To understand the Navajo kinship system we must first examine that of the Western social structure in which many Americans function daily. Traditionally, kinship in Western society begins with the nuclear family: father, mother, and children. This is a bilineal and patrifocal system in which the father is the head of the household and the idea of descent is displayed by the father’s descent. Descent in this system is through the passing of the father’s last name to his children, as well as to his wife upon marriage. Strictly, kinship is defined and “limited to those human beings who are blood relatives” (Witherspoon 21). In this way, kin is displayed by last name and traditionally shows a biological link to kin, making biological descent the basis of the kinship system of Western societies. The Navajo kinship system differs from Western kinship in many ways. Rather than revolving around the nuclear family, this system is based on the mother. This matrilineal system places a Head Mother as the head of the household. According to Witherspoon, Mothers “give and sustain life for their children” (Witherspoon 15). Kinship is then defined by the unconditional giving and care from mother to child. This type of kinship is displayed by the clan system, in which a mother’s clan is passed on to all of her children; “the child is given the same descent category as its mother” (Witherspoon 39). In this way, a clan can be considered a large, extended family, in Western terms, in which all show this type of unconditional giving and care for those within the same clan. There is a second type of relationship that plays a central role in Navajo kinship, and that is the relationship of affinity, or that acquired through marriage. When a man and woman marry, they are not considered kin and do not behave in the same way as clan members would. Instead, affinal relationships are fostered by reciprocity in which both parties give and receive rather than
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one giving unconditionally. A father’s descent is from his mother, in which he shares her clan membership, which is not passed on to his children; “children of the men are not included [into the man’s descent category] because the father-child relationship of descent is not the one in which the category is based” (Witherspoon 39). In this way the father has an affinal relationship not only with his wife, but with his children as well. Witherspoon mentions that “it is the marriage of the father to the mother which ties the father to his children” (Witherspoon 31). This is to say that although the father-child relationship is affinal, reciprocity is mostly between father and mother.
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AIS Midterm - AIS 100 Midterm 1. To understand the Navajo...

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