D. d) Family and kinship                 Next

Family and kinship

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Choice 1In Western societies the structures of social interaction and roles and obligations change as individuals move out from the immediate family circle to the wider society.
Choice 1In contrast to this, in Aboriginal societies the family structures and the sets of rights and obligations underlying them are extended to the whole society.
Choice 1When Aboriginal people refer to their family they invariably mean their extended family which might include parents, several children, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, and grandparents.
Choice 2When speaking to, or about, another person in Aboriginal societies, the person's personal name is rarely used. A person is addressed by the appropriate relationship term, e.g. father, aunt, or older brother. Another person is refererred to as so-and-so's son or mother.
Choice 3Aboriginal family obligations, often seen as nepotism by other Australians, may be reflecting cultural values, involving kinship responsibilities.
Choice 4Aboriginal kinship ties, values, beliefs, identity and language are maintained by the family. The continuance of Aboriginal society is dependent on keeping Aboriginal families strong and healthy both physically and culturally

 

Family and kinship

Aboriginal kinship and family structures are still cohesive forces which bind Aboriginal people together in all parts of Australia. They provide psychological and emotional support to Aboriginal people even though they create concern among some non- Aboriginal people who would prefer Aborigines to follow European social preferences for nuclear families with few kinship responsibilities.

Aboriginal family obligations, often seen as nepotism by other Australians, may be reflecting cultural values, involving kinship responsibilities.

For Aboriginal people kinship and family are especially import. Aboriginal people have family and kinship responsibilities that are not typical of non-Aboriginal families.

Aboriginal people get things done through working through their family and kinship structures.

Effects

The effects of this are:

Aboriginal clients

  • May feel obligated to share material/resources support with family members
  • May not feel comfortable to speak out in group meetings if they are the only Aboriginal person at a meeting

Aboriginal workers

  • May feel obligated to work with clients out of hours if they are part of their community or kinship group
  • May feel obligated to share their resources with family members
  • May see clients in a holistic way (without many of the functional boundaries that European/Western culture has).

Aboriginal management committees;

  • May not see a conflict of interest if members of a kinship group are on the Management Committee and are also clients of the service.

 

 

 

 

Aboriginal kinship and family structures bind Aboriginal people together

Aboriginal kinship and family structures are still cohesive forces which bind Aboriginal people together in all parts of Australia. They provide psychological and emotional support to Aboriginal people even though they create concern among non- Aboriginal people who would prefer Aborigines to follow European social preferences for nuclear families with few kinship responsibilities. Aboriginal family obligations, often seen as nepotism by other Australians, may be reflecting cultural values, involving kinship responsibilities. p100

Nearly all Aboriginal families know of relatives who were removed
as children and put into European custody.

Nearly all Aboriginal families know of relatives who were removed as children and put into European custody. Aboriginal people refer to them as "taken" or "stolen". The effects of such policies and practices are still reverberating in the Aboriginal community. Aboriginal adults who were taken away from their families as children experience difficulties adjusting without having an Aboriginal family supported childhood. Though wanting to join their own people, some have a crisis of identity. They have been raised to think "white" and "be like white people". To gain acceptance in Aboriginal society they have to learn new values and new rules and in many cases overcome negative views of their Aboriginal heritage. p101

Kinship

In Western societies the structures of social interaction and roles and obligations change as individuals move out from the immediate family circle to the wider society. In contrast to this, in Aboriginal societies the family structures and the sets of rights and obligations underlying them are extended to the whole society. As an individual moves out from the immediate family to the local group and to the total linguistic group, he or she is able to identify all other members of the groups by the same relationship terms which apply in the family. Terms usually applied to lineal relatives are used to refer also to collateral relatives. This is made possibly by the application in Aboriginal societies of what is called the Classificatory System of Kinship.

A basic principle of this system in traditional societies is the equivalence of same-sex siblings. According to this principle, people who are of the same sex and belong to the same sibling line are viewed as essentially the same. Thus two brothers are considered to be equivalent. If one has a child, that child views not only his biological father as father but applies the same term to the father's brother. The same principle applies to two sisters with both being mothers to any child either one bears. As a father's brother is also identified as father, the latter's children will be brothers and sisters, rather than cousins.

This system is known as the classificatory system of kinship because all members of the larger group are classified under the relationship terms. There is no need to expand the range of classifications or relationship terms. Several people are identified by an individual within each classification. Thus a person has several fathers, several mothers, and many brothers and sisters. A mother's brother, being on the same sibling line but of the other sex, is identified as an uncle. A father's sister is an aunt (See Edwards, 1988:48-49, for diagrams illustrating kinship terms).

When speaking to, or about, another person in Aboriginal societies, the person's personal name is rarely used. A person is addressed by the appropriate relationship term, e.g. father, aunt, or older brother. Another person is referred to as so-and-so's son or mother. The personal names are seen as essentially part of the person and are used with discretion. p104-105

When Aborigines refer to their family they invariably mean
their extended family

When Aborigines refer to their family they invariably mean their extended family which might include parents, several children, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, and grandparents. These family members can be both genetic and classificatory. It is the kinship ties which determine a person's rights, responsibilities and behaviour.

Aboriginal kinship ties, values, beliefs, identity and language are maintained by the family. The continuance of Aboriginal society is dependent on keeping Aboriginal families strong and healthy both physically and culturally. p119

Source: Extracts taken from: Family and Kinship by Colin Bourke and Bill Edwards

Further Reading

Family and Kinship by Colin Bourke and Bill Edwards in Aboriginal Australia, An Introductory Reader in Aboriginal Studies, Second Edition (Edited by Colin Bourke, Eleanor Bourke and Bill Edwards). University of Queensland Press. 1998, 2004.