Temiar - Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. The tree-owning village core group previously described constitutes the operational aspect of a corporate cognatic descent group, or ramage. Any one individual may thus claim potential membership in several such ramages, through his or her mother, father, or other consanguines. The ramage associated with a person's natal village is usually thought of as his or her primary ramage, even if that person has lived elsewhere, such as in the spouse's village. In most situations, however, decisions about membership in local groups do not involve active acknowledgment of descent as such. It is one's continuing relations with the living, not the dead, that provide the basis for such decisions. Thus, while it is siblingship (and cousinship) that is concerned in the day-to-day operation of village membership, descent is brought into play only when the group's continuity through time or individual cases of village membership are in doubt. Ramages as such do not enter into alliances, either marital or political. They do, however, provide a basis for the allocation of political authority: the most able member of the senior core-sibling group in each community becomes in effect the village leader.

Kinship Terminology. The referential kinship terminology is thoroughly classificatory and bilateral; it is also basically generational in structure. Since cousins and siblings are referred to and addressed in the same way, the terminology is of the Hawaiian type. This overriding of collaterality applies to some other generations too, so that aunts might optionally be called "mother," uncles "father," and nieces or nephews "child"; however, distinctive terms do exist for these relatives, and they are frequently employed.

All Temiar—and indeed all members of the neighboring Orang Asli groups—are regarded as potential kin. Two strangers will search their genealogical knowledge until they find one or more relatives in common, whereupon they will enter into an appropriate kinship relationship. In practice, for all except close kin, categorization reduces to just a few basic decisions: whether the other person is of the same or of an adjacent generational level, and whether he or she is related by marriage or by birth. Finer distinctions may then be made on the basis of the two kinspersons' relative ages ("older" or "younger") and, if they choose to be affines, relative sex ("cross" or "parallel"). With this simple calculus in mind individual Temiar can travel for 160 kilometers or so, even into Semang or Semai (and sometimes Malay) territory, building up a chain of kinship-based rights and obligations as they go.

Temiar thus have the means to extend their kinship links at will to considerable distances. They are able to do this because of the primary structural importance they ascribe to the sibling linkage, which underlies both the sociology of group formation (where a principle of sibling solidarity applies) and the cultural logic of kinship reckoning (where a principle of sibling equivalence applies). Analysis of the kinship terminology and of the personal naming system shows that both of these cultural paradigms embody the same model of social structure: the progressive generation of a group of siblings out of a set of affinal and filiative links that simultaneously undergo progressive degeneration.

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