Belau - Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. The basic kin unit is the "house" ( blai ), which is composed of individuals linked by strong matrilateral bonds ( ochell, or "offspring of women") and of individuals associated by weaker patrilateral ties ( ulecheli, or "offspring of men"). Each house controls a residential site, taro patches, a chiefly title, exchange valuables, and ceremonial prerogatives. Houses form wider affiliative networks ( kebliil ) both within the village and between villages, which function to channel social cooperation, exchange, and inheritance. The complexity of Belauan kinship lies in the lateral breadth of relationships rather than in the depth of remembered genealogies.

Kinship Terminology. Distinctive characteristics of the system of kin terms include: the overriding of generation (off-spring of women label offspring of men as "children"); the importance of sibling rank reflected in senior and junior terms for both males and females; a reciprocal term for cross-sex siblings signaling the solidarity of the brother-sister pair; the existence of a special term for mother's brother; and the generalization of the respectful kin terms "mother" and "father" in polite address to all elders. With respect to the generational stratification of sibling and cousin terms, the system could be labeled Hawaiian; with respect to the skewing of generations due to the importance of matrilineal ties, it could be labeled Crow. Titleholders are never addressed by their personal names.

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