The system of kinship, that is, the way in which relations between individuals and groups are organised, occupies a central place in all human societies. Radcliffe-Brown (1964) insisted on the study of a kinship system as a field of rights and obligations and saw it as part of the social structure. Evans-Pritchard’s study of the Nuer of the southern Sudan (1951) focused on kinship groups, particularly groups based on descent in the male line from known ancestor.
Morgan called them gens (clans). However, Morgan’s view, along with that of McLennan and Sir Henry Maine, that the kinship systems should be equated with evolutionary law, is not favoured today. Kinship systems are not subject to cumulative evolution as the evolution of technology is Kinship systems cannot be ranked as better or worse, higher or lower. They simply represent alternative ways of doing things, namely, in terms of acknowledged rules and regulations regarding succession, inheritance and marriage.
Evans-Pritchard showed how gens functioned as political groups in Nuer society. He emphasised on the recruitment, perpetuation and functioning of such groups in Africa. Emphasis on interpersonal relations between individuals and groups is found in the study of kinship by Meyer Fortes. Thus, we can look at the total society and ask how it forms its kinship groups, and how they function.
We can look at the network of the relationships that bind individuals to each other in the ‘web’ of kinship. Kinship systems are also seen as methods of organising marriage relations between groups. Through marriage, Levi-Strauss (1969) observes, members are recruited to kinship groups.
A female is recruited as a wife, as a daughter-in-law and so on through her marriage to another group; and a male through his marriage is recruited as husband, son-in-law of his wife’s parents. Thus, kinship group alliances are transacted through marriage.
Robin Fox (1967) writes:
“The study of kinship is the study of what he (man) does and why he does it, and the consequences of the adoption of one alternative rather than another”. Fox further says: “The study of kinship is the study of what man does with these basic facts of life such as mating, gestation, parenthood, socialization, sibling ship, etc.”
Four basic principles outlined by Fox regarding kinship are as follows:
1. The women have children.
2. The men impregnate the women.
3. The men usually exercise control.
4. Primary kins do not mate with each other.
In its commonest definition, kinship is simply the relations between ‘kin’, i.e., persons related by real, putative or fictive consanguinity as stated by Fox. However, it is difficult to define and find the ‘real’ consanguinity.
Generally, we remember people up to two to three generations. Thus, a consanguine is one who is defined by the society as a person related by real or supposed blood ties. However, blood relationship’ in a genetic sense has not necessarily anything to do with it.
We draw a distinction between ‘pater’ or legal father from the ‘genitor’ or actual biological father. In case of adoption also a child is treated as consanguine. A female becomes a consanguine after her marriage as soon as she bears a child. Consanguinity is thus a socially defined quality. Affines are married to consanguines, for example, in the case of levirate.
John Beattie [1974) provides an adequate explanation of kinship. According to him, the basic categories of biological relationship are available as a means of identifying and ordering social relations. Kinship provides categories for distinguishing between the people.
Hence, kinship categories are more social than jural or economic. The categories of kinship are used to define social relationships – distinct types of social behaviour and particular patterns of expectations, beliefs and values.
These social relations may be of authority and subordination, of economic exchange, of domestic cooperation, of ritual or ceremonial natur