Yanomano Kin Terms

Yanomamo kin terms conform to the Iroquois classificatory pattern, which is consistent with other features of their social structure, including an emphasis on unilineal (patrilineal) descent and bilateral cross cousin marriage.

Yanomamo Kin Terms

The major features of this system include:

  1. The application of a bifurcate merging rule through which
  2. The merging of parallel cousins and siblings, eiwa (male) and amiwa (female), accompanied by a distintive terms for cross cousins, soriwa (male) and suaboya (female).

In this case, as in other Iroquois terminologies, bifurcate merging is related to a unilineal descent system, where distinctions between father's and mother's sides of the family are important for social relations. The distinction between different kinds of cousins reflects this division between descent lines but also marks a second important difference: parallel cousins, like brothers and sisters, are prohibited from marrying; cross cousins are not and may very often be chosen as preferential marriage partners within a cross cousin marriage system.

The Yanomamo in fact do practice a system of bilateral cross cousin marriage, based upon two principles:

  1. a direct exchange initial marriage pattern, in which two men marry each other's sisters,
  2. a perpetuation of exchanges and alliance between the two lineages involved through the inter-marriage of subsequent children, who are doubly related as cross cousins through both fathers and mothers.
The Yanomamo elucidate this marriage system through an additional denotation of the cross-cousin terms. A man's term for his female cross-cousin, suaboya, is also the term for wife, which should probably be considered as its primary meaning. The term for male cross-cousin, soriwa, also denotes brother-in-law, in both senses of the term, since ego's wife's brother will normally be married to ego's sister. In a similar fashion women classifies male cross cousins and husbands within one category, heroya, and female cross cousins and sisters-in-law within another natohiya.

A comparison between Yanomamo and English terms ( as per a male ego addressing a male relative) is provided below.

Yanomamo and English Terms Compared
According to Kin Type
Kin Term Kin Type English Term
Haya F Father
FB Uncle
Soaya MB
Eiwa B Brother
FBS Cousin
Soriwa FZS
WB Brother-in-Law
Teeya S Son
BS Nephew
Tataya ZS

Source: Lizot 1971

© Brian Schwimmer
University of Manitoba
Page created 1995