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Incest likens one to an animal who has no knowledge of how to behave like a human being. Put another way, it likens one to a creature who has no catego- ries in its experiential universe, who is incapable of making social distinc- tions. Emotional reaction to transgression of the taboo is much more intense than that in the case of simple adultery. Social sanctions for incest are also much more severe. Intercourse with a daughter-in-law is a sin but does not quite constitute incest. The range of incestuous relations can be defined in this population by identifying those relatives with whom sexual intercourse is puilished by burning.

A less severe sanction is indicative of a less serious transgression. Thus, intercourse with a daughter-in-law may be a serious sin, approaching incest; lack of a severe sanction indicates it to be considered a lesser wrong than true incest. Likewise sexual relations with a grandmother or granddaughter are treated almost indulgently when compared with the attitude toward true incest. What explanations can be offered for this range of tabooed relatives? In this case the kinship system does not offer much help.

The system in Cachama is more complex than that: in Mamo and is distorted by extensive generational skewing, particularly among affines. However, even though a structural differentiation between kin and affines does exist in the terminol- ogy, it does not seem to be significant in selecting marital partners.

There are no clear oppositions either in social groups or in individual behavior. For example, 10 unions were recorded with female kin in own or adjacent genera- tions as,e1ose as classificatory Z. Residential patterns provide a better key to the factors underlying the definition of incest.

When a young couple marries they generally live with or adjacent to one or the other's parents. This residential group cooperates in joint!.. The members also spend much leisure time together. Several of these extended family clusters are found dispersed within each of the five Cachama neighborhoods. The '.


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As men become more mature they sometimes establish independent neolocal households, but even then they are usually influenced by the present or former location of other relatives-invariably they remain within the orig- inal neighborhood. As their children mature, however, the cyclical pattern of extended family residence clusters will reassert itself. The important point, in terms of the present discussion, is that all of the tabooed women will be found in one or another of these residential clusters.

On the first ascending generation prohibited women are all classed as axsano or boxpi, on the first descending generation they are all mwiyi, and on ego's own generation they are ba? The slight relaxation of attitude toward pwarisano might be because this relative could occasionally be tdkono for both father and son. In this case marriage by one almost certainly inhibits access by the other. Even so, premarital attitudes might carry over and mitigate slightly the response to a transgression of prohibited intimacy. In any case, prevailing uxorilocal resi- dence would not. The same is true of sexual contact between second generation relatives.

Preferential uxorilocal residence in extended family household clusters would provide little motive or opportunity for sexual intimacy between grandparent and grandchild in prepubescent years. A low life expectancy means that few grandparents survive beyond the age of 45 or 50, when their eldest grandchildren would be reaching puberty. The tendency for mature men to establish neolocal residence also serves to dissociate grandparents and grandchildren. These factors, combined with a multiplicity of grandchil- dren and a high rate of infant mortality, seem to discourage establishment of strong affective ties between grandparents and grandchildren.

It is not un With limited possibilities, the threat of sexual intimacy between these rela- tives is not treated very seriously. Only when one or two orphaned children might be left in the care of a widowed grandparent does there seem to be even a possibility for illicit relations.

Kinship Terminology Classificatory and Descriptive

By the early part of this century the opposition between kin and affines had begun to break down; this was accompanied by important changes in the definition of kin categories. Contradictory forces seem to have been as- serted on ego's generation, but the dominant trend was towards a lineal terminology with Eskimo cousin terms.

Only the -1 generation remained unchanged, with maintenance of traditional bifurcate merging terms. I have no satisfactory explanation for these changes, except to suggest that al- though the Mamefio population was nucleated at that time, residence may have been increasingly based on nuclear family households. Since Mamo was at a considerable distance from most other Karinya communities, the evidence is that it has always had a high rate of community endogamy, so that kin and affines would be equally close or distant spatially.

The effect of these modifications on definition of the incest taboo was relatively minor. As parallel cousins became identified with cross cousins instead of with siblings, they became available as permissible sexual partners or, at least, they were not prohibited. At the same time, the desirability of taking these kin as spouses declined markedly-only one cousin marriage with a parallel cousin was recorded for this age group.

These modifications in terminology reflect a process of increasingly symmetrical bilateral organization within both the family and wider kin rela- tions during the past two or three generations Schwerin , The shift to more symmetrical bilaterality has come about in response to a variety of factors. The dispersal of Mamefio population since cf. Schwerin has weakened extended family ties, for emigration was by individual men or nuclear families.

Material culture

As a result, the nuclear family became more self-sufficient. The husband-father of these colonizing house- holds assm;ned greater economic importance, whether cultivating the fields or pursuing wage labor. Later emigrants often sought economic oppor- tunities near relatives but without concern for whether they were kin or affines, or related through males or females.

Most individuals born after never learned to speak K: inya. Not only is Spanish their first language but Spanish terms are also use d in preference to Karinya terms in denoting particular kinship categories. From the standpoint of the incest taboo, the inly significant modification would be to equate BD with ZD, excluding b th from the prohibition Table 3.

Sometimes when a young man leaves horn he seeks hospitality and assistance from relatives who are well established n other localities. Sexual competition for the spouses of these male relafo s would be inconsistent with obligations of mutual aid. On the other hand.

The same attitude would mos1 ikely prevail for a youth who similarly seeks aid from his elder TABLE 3. Increased mobility of both sexes sometimes results in offspring being left with grand- parents for extended periods of time.

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Furthermore, conjugal ties are less stable today than they have been in the past, and a woman who is separated from or abandoned by her spouse frequently leaves her children with her mother. Sometimes they remain with the grandparents even after their mother's re- marriage. In all of these circumstances the grandmother acts as surrogate mother, and incest would, of course, be unthinkable.


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After all the furor over incest in their midst, I was surprised to find that most Mamefios felt that an appropriate punishment for violation of the taboo would be a jail term of 4 or 5 months! It must be remembered, however, that in a society where most transgressions are met with a fine or incarceration of a few days, a sentence of 4 to 5 months ranks as a relatively severe sanction. The only crime that is punished more harshly is homicide, which is today hardly comparable to incest, since the Venezuelan authorities invariably intervene in cases of murder.

Mamo is still sufficiently small and solidary as a community so that a great deal of social control is effected through gossip and public criticism. Add this to the almost total social ostracism of the incestuous family, and it becomes evident that they were subjected to some of the most severe informal sanctions available. The punishment ought to be the same 6 I am not entirely satisfied with this explanation. Additional factors may be involved. In the data from both Mamo and Cachama there are hints that men are considered slightly more responsible for transgressions of the incest taboo than are women.

(PDF) Incest and Kinship Structure | Karl Schwerin - tiogenewslumve.ml

There is also lan impression that the elder partner bears more of the blame than the younger bears; in other words, age brings with it a responsibility for one's actions that cannot be demanded of naive youth. An adult who leads a prepubescent astray into incest may be considered more guilty than the child.

Finally, the structure of prohibited relations as presented here from the male point of view suggests that the picture may appear somewhat different from the female perspective.

Essays Presented to Harry W. Basehart

Unfortunately, the data are insufficient to provide a definitive resolution for any one of these points. It is difficult to explain the difference in severity of sanction for incest elicited in each community. Perhaps the less repressive attitude in Mamo is a concomitant of the disappearance of the extended family and greater inde- pendence for the contemporary nuclear family.

The nuclear family, even when bolstered by the moral outrage of the entire community, can hardly project the same sort of strong, united front in response to an internal threat, as was possible for the extended family in the past.

Published Works

In Mamo cultural and linguistic modification, related to changing residence patterns and family organization, results in the exclusion of several collateral relatives from tabooed categories and a strengthening of the application to lineal kinsmen through the second ascending and descending generations. In contrast, social organization in Cachama, in conjunction with locally distinc- tive demographic patterns, has excluded the second ascending and descend- ing generations from the taboo whereas it continues to emphasize the taboo's extension to certain classes of collateral relatives in ego's own and the first ascending and descending generations.

It is located adjacent to a creole settlement where minor disputes are subject to a creole comisario.


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  6. More serious mat- ters, such as homicide, theft oflivestock, etc. KARL H. I have no quarrel with that characterization as applied t primary relatives.

    The point I wish to clarify is that extension of the tabo beyond primary kinsmen is a relativistic phenomenon that is determined b""" particular sociocultural conditions. Thus, whereas incest is universal! Even within a given culture, as we ha' seen, it is possible for the range of the taboo to change through time. Incest is not to be confused with either endogamy or adultery. Incest concerned with illicit sexual relations as in adultery and not with marria!

    The latter is excluded by virtue of the former being prohi ited.