Iroquois kinship

Iroquois kinship

Iroquois kinship (also known as bifurcate merging) is a kinship system used to define family. Identified by Louis Henry Morgan in his 1871 work "Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family", the Iroquois system is one of the six major kinship systems (Eskimo, Hawaiian, Iroquois, Crow, Omaha, and Sudanese).

Kinship system

The system has both classificatory and descriptive terms. In addition to gender and generation, Iroquois kinship also distinguishes between parental siblings of opposite sexes. Parental siblings of the "same" sex are considered blood relatives (i.e., 'Parents'). However, parental siblings of "differing" sex are labelled as "Aunt" or "Uncle" as the situation necessitates. Thus, one's mother's sister is also called mother, and one's father's brother is also called father; however, one's mother's brother is called father-in-law, and one's father's sister is called mother-in-law.

Children of the parental generation (that is, children of parental siblings of the same sex) are considered siblings (parallel cousins). The children of an Aunt or an Uncle are "not" siblings, they are instead cousins (cross cousins specifically).


Ego (the subject from whose perspective the kinship is based) is encouraged to marry his cross cousins but discouraged from marrying his parallel cousins. New genetic material is constantly brought into the pool via Ego's father's sister's (Aunt's) husband or Ego's mother's brother's (Uncle's) wife. The system also is useful in reaffirming alliances between related lineages or clans.


The term Iroquois comes from the Iroquoian Indians of northeastern North America. However, multiple groups around the globe employ the "Iroquois" system and is fairly commonly found in unilineal descent groups. These include:
#The entire population of South India;
#The Dravidian population of India and Sri Lanka;

outh India and Sri Lanka

The entire Hindu population of South India, numbering in the vicinity of 250 million people, uses the kinship tradition described above. This includes not only the traditional encouragement of wedding ties between cross-cousins, but also the use of kinship TERMS in the following format:
*One's mother's sister is also called mother, and her husband is called father;
*One's father's brother is also called father, and his wife is called mother;
*However, one's mother's brother is called father-in-law, and his wife is called mother-in-law; and,
*One's father's sister is called mother-in-law, and her husband is called father-in-law

Parallel cousins are considered siblings, and it is forbidden for Ego to wed them. Cross cousins are however NOT siblings but termed Cousins; Ego may wed them.


Until recently, the same system was in use in rural Chinese societies.

ee also

*Kinship and descent
*Cultural anthropology
*List of anthropologists


*William Haviland, "Cultural Anthropology", Wadsworth Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-534-27479-X
* [ The Nature of Kinship]
* [ Schwimmer: Kinship and Social Organization: An Interactive Tutorial: Iroquois terminology]

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