Malaita - Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. Throughout the Malaita Interior, descent-based local groups having primary interests in estates in land and primary connections to ancestors are the most important sociopolitical units. Everywhere, the ideal pattern is for virilocal residence and patrifiliation, with Children growing up in their father's place and developing a primary attachment there to lands and ancestors. Ideally, then, members of the group should all be connected to the founding ancestors through patrifilial chains (and those who are, are distinguished as "agnates"). However, throughout Malaita, connections with maternal relatives (and, through them, to lands and ancestors) are regarded as very important and complementary to connections to and through paternal relatives. "Nonagnates" are recognized as having secondary rights of residence and land use. Such ties are extended through father's mother, mother's mother, and more distant kin; and ancestors related through such links were commonly propitiated. Life circumstances—uxorilocal residence, parental divorce, or widowhood—can lead children to grow up with maternal kin. When they do, they are accorded de facto rights of residence and land rights as though they were agnates: what matters is commitment to lands, ancestors, and kin and intimate knowledge of a place and its rituals and taboos. Given the ideological emphasis on agnation (at least in some contexts) and countervailing ideologies of symmetric bilaterality, and given the varying statistical composition of groups, it is no wonder that ethnographers have differed in characterizing Malaita social structure. Among the Lau speakers of the lagoons, densely concentrated in large villages, descent groups are quite squarely agnatic. In some parts of Malaita, segmentary ritual and political relationships above the level of local descent-based groups were accorded importance. In the north, eight clusters of descent groups were recognized, with the politically dominant and ritually senior "stem" groups of each cluster connected to one another by putative agnatic links (but with some other groups within each cluster connected to the "stem" group by nonagnatic links). In Kwaio, such higher-level linkages operate only through ritual links between shrines and their priests.

Kinship Terminology. Kinship terminology ranges from a symmetric Iroquois-type pattern in Kwara'ae (systematically distinguishing cross from parallel kin in the middle three Generations according to relative sex of the last connecting links) to a basically Hawaiian-type pattern in Kwaio (broken only by a self-reciprocal mother's brother/sister's child category). Intermediate are systems (such as To'aba'ita) with a partial Omaha-like skewing in which the mother's brother/sister's child category is incorporated into the grandparent/grandchild category (which occurs in all the Malaita terminologies).

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