Lahu - Kinship



Kin Groups and Descent. Although many of the Lahu in Yunnan have taken Chinese surnames (Li seems to be the most common) and patrilineage organization (for ritual purposes) is found among some Lahu groups (e.g., Lahu Sheh Leh), the traditional kinship pattern seems to be essentially bilateral, with exogamous but noncorporate cognatic kindreds. Among Lahu Nyi these include second but not third cousins. Outside the immediate family and village community, ties of kinship do not necessarily cement stronger bonds between individuals than does simple friendship. This notwithstanding, there is a pervasive notion that members of the village community should behave as "relatives" ( aw-vi aw-nyi ).

Kinship Terminology. There are some differences in terminology according to divisional affiliation and the dominant lingua franca (a Tai language or Chinese), but the underlying pattern seems fairly consistent. The Lahu Shi and Lahu Sheh Leh systems, however, have terms—absent among other Lahu divisions—to identify particular parental siblings; this usage may reflect these peoples' preference for matrilateral cross-cousin marriage. Typically, Lahu Nyi have a composite term for kin, "aw-vi aw-nyi," literally meaning "elder sibling, younger sibling." The specific (i.e., nondescriptive) kinship terminology is very simple, both in reference and address. Grandfathers on both sides are aw-pu ( nga [my] pu in address) and grandmothers aw-pi ( nga pi ). Father is aw-pa ( nga pa ), mother aw-e ( nga e ). There are only descriptive terms for parents' siblings and these relatives are addressed by the terms for elder male/female sibling. There are no special terms for cousins, although these can be specified descriptively. Siblings and cousins are addressed by personal name. There are specific terms also for the next four generations. All are addressed by personal name.


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