Mardudjara - Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. Although dispersal and traditional local organization have given way to aggregation in sedentary communities, kinship remains a fundamental building block of Mardu society, and everyone relates to everyone else primarily in terms of classificatory kinship norms. Kinship and religious ties link Aborigines right across the vast Western Desert. The Mardu are drawn from dialect-named Territorial divisions that unite territory, language, and kin groups. These larger units, sometimes wrongly called "tribes," never existed as corporate entities, and though boundaries existed, they were highly permeable. The most visible group was the band, whose camping arrangements reflected the several Family groups that made up this flexible aggregation. Within every dialect-named area were a number of bands and at least one "estate," the highly valued heartland that contained major sacred sites and important waterholes and constituted the locus of the estate group. The Mardu kinship system is bilateral, but traditionally there was a clear patrivirilocal tendency in "residence" rules and practices, as well as a strong preference for children to be born somewhere in or near the estate of their father. Both the estate group and the band tended to have a core of people related patrilineally. There were no lineages or clans, and genealogical depth was limited (aided by taboos on naming the dead).

Kinship Terminology. Terminology is bifurcate-merging and occurs in association with a section system, with the division of society into four named categories. Many of the seventeen different terms of address used by each sex are shared by male and female speakers. Mardu also employ a large and complex set of dual-reference terms. There is a generational emphasis; thus, for example, all people in one's grandparent and grandchild generations are merged under two nearly identical terms, differing only for the sex of the person addressed. Patterned sets of behaviors associated with each kin term can be seen as ranging along a continuum from joking to avoidance relationships.

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