Baffinland Inuit - Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. The pattern of social cohesion, or division, within Baffinland Inuit society is determined to a large measure by the density and type of kin-based relationships that exist within any one segment of the population. The nuclear family is a primary social unit, but it is the extended family that is the most important social entity when considering the integration that occurs between the social and economic roles of individuals. Extended families are also linked through kinship to form the larger territorial group that is often referred to as a band. The Baffinland system of kinship is bilateral and recognizes positions for two ascending and two descending generations. The kinship system encourages interpersonal behavior based on respect, affection, and obedience. Although these categories of behavior apply only to pairs of individuals, they also play a part within the larger system since they help to regulate or channel the sharing of food and materials including money, the flow of information, the age or sexual division of roles, and the expression of Leadership within a social group. The structure of kinship groups indicates a bias toward relationships between males, yet not to the extent that could be called a patrilineal form of social organization.

Kinship Terminology. Within Baffinland Inuit society, two types of terminological processes operate to create a Kinship network. The first is that which establishes the formal or ideal set of terms that identify fixed kinship positions in relationship to a speaker. These positions are based on the consanguineal ties of biological family and on the affinal ties acquired through marriage. The second, and in relation to everyday usage, the more important process, is the alternative way in which the terms of the formal or ideal system are incorporated into an alternative, or "fictive," system of relationships. Because of this second process, there is often a major distinction between the true consanguineal or affinal relationship and the term that is actually used. The name is the primary factor that creates this apparent contradiction. Throughout Baffinland, newborn children are named after a deceased person or persons—a child can have as many as seven names. A speaker will therefore refer to this child on the basis of the kinship relationship that existed between the speaker and the deceased person. Because of this process, most individuals are recognized by many different fictive Kinship terms. The fictive kinship established through the name also means that the behavior follows the fictive rather than the actual kinship designation, and this can cross sexual lines. Although such reckoning is often used in a symbolic sense, especially as the child grows older, it is nevertheless important and persistent.

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