Tonga belong to the clans and matrilineal descent groups of their mothers, although children also identify with their fathers and the descent groups of the latter. Residence is usually virilocal. The residential group, or homestead, usually consists of a man, his wife or wives, and their children. Sons may settle initially with their father but are likely to join other kin or establish their own homestead on the death or divorce of their parents. Descent groups disperse, but matrilineal kin assemble for funerals as long as common descent is remembered, and those living in proximity consult frequently. They inherit from each other and, in the past, formed a mutual defense and vengeance group. Residential units based on multilateral linkages, however important at any one time, are ephemeral. Continuity is created by the ties of matrilineal descent. Some fourteen clans exist. People with the same clan name are assumed to be related. Clanship provides a means of legitimating associations, which over time can be converted into kinship. The system of clan joking links clans for the provision of essential services at funerals and in some other tense situations.
Alternate generations are merged. Within-generation speakers refer to each other as senior or junior. On the plateau and in the Gwembe hills, Iroquois cousin terms are used. Plain dwellers use Crow cousin terms.