Ju/'hoansi Joking and Avoidance Relationships

While the Ju/'hoansi assign specific rights and obligations on the basis of each kin term, they also make a broad distinction between relatives on the basis of joking and avoidance kin (Lee 2002:66-69). Joking kin are expected to maintain cordial and affectionate relationships and mark their intimacy by extensive joking involving insults, mock threats, and ribald remarks. Avoidance kin are supposed to be respectful and reserved with one another and, in some extreme cases, such as mother-in-law/son-in-law relationships, should not talk to each other at all. The following table marks ego's joking kin (in blue) and avoidance kin (in red).

Joking and Avoidance Kin

The main characteristic of the joking/avoidance system is the application of the alternate generation rule. Ego generally has relaxed relationships with members of his own generation and those of his grandfather's and grandson's generations. More formal interactions are imposed upon the members of a parent's or child's generation, and are extended by the alternating principle to great grandparent's and great grandchild's. A single exception to this pattern involves a brother/sister avoidance rule. Joking and avoidance are also applied to inlaws in the same fashion. Ego avoids parents-in-law and children-in-law, but jokes with affines of his own generation, including his sisters-in-law and the parents of his son-in-law and daughter-in-law, who are actually assigned a distinct kin term (n!unba/n!untai ). An exception to this rule specifies avoidance between brothers-in-law (both wife's brother and sister's husband), which may be a reflection of the brother/sister pattern.

Joking and Avoidance among Affinal Kin

Joking and avoidance relationships have been observed in many cultures. They are often associated with the alternate generation principle that the Ju/'hoansi apply and follow the same pattern of contrasting parent/child and grandparent/grandchild roles.(Radcliffe-Brown 1940).

©Brian Schwimmer
University of Manitoba
Created: Janurary 2001
Last updated: August 2003