Figure 13: Segmentary Descent Systems

Descent Lines

This schematic diagram depicts the generation of the system. A hypothetical ancestor (I), the founder of the entire group, has two sons (A and B), each of whom serves as a focal point for the division of the larger unit into two smaller subgroups. The process is reiterated as A and B have two sons each (1,2,3,4), who in turn have two sons and so on. The descent process sets up a plan for the formation of a series of nested descent groups .

Figure 13: semetary descent


All the the descendents of I are included in a maximal lineage, 4 generations deep, which will most likely bear the founder's name. A and B define two segments which partition the maximal lineage members according to the two divergent descent lines. This process is repeated in successive generations until minimal lineages, usually extended family households, are included.

Group Membership

From an individual participant's perspective the system can be viewed as a series of ever more inclusive groups. Thus i is a member of four groups:

  • a minimal segment a
  • a minor segment 1
  • a major segment A
  • a maximal segment I

each of which has a different scope and set of functions.

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