This essay has a total of 1870 words and 8 pages.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were social beings who were linked to other people (including ancestors), through a number of totemic relationships. These relationships were very complex and test the intellectual agility of those who try to understand them.

Most commentators speak and write about Aboriginal social relationships using the word tribe.
"The system is worked out according to certain principles which are observed by the Aborigines: (i) A start is made from the family and close blood relations reckoned to the second generation up and down, and also collaterally to the second line on both the fatherís and motherís side of any particular individual (but) we should remember that the Aborigines do not distinguish Ďowní or blood relations from those related only by marriage or by Ďlegalí fiction (in other words, every member of a tribe is considered to be a relative). (ii) But in reckoning collateral relations, aunts, uncles and cousins, they employ a principle which distinguishes their kinship system from ours; they regard brothers as equivalent and sisters as equivalent, and apply terms according to this principle. Thus, motherís sister is classified with and called mother, and fatherís brother is classified with and called father. Likewise grandfatherís brother is Ďgrandfatherí and so on. Moreover, certain consequential relationships follow from this; thus, since fatherís brother is my Ďfatherí, his son is my Ďbrotherí; he is not my cousin as with us; and likewise motherís sisterís children are not my cousins, but my Ďbrothersí and Ďsistersí; or a brotherís children, in the case of a man, are not his nephews and nieces, but his Ďchildrení, or if a woman be speaking, then her sisterís children are Ďsonsí and Ďdaughtersí to her. (iii)In the third place, except for very special and rare purposes, the children of a brother and sister are distinguished in terminology, and different behavior is observed towards them. Thus my children and my brotherís children are sons and daughters to me, but the children of my sister are nephews and nieces; or, to look at the relationship from the point of view of these groups of children: my brotherís children call me, and regard me as, Ďfatherí while my sisterís children look upon me as Ďuncleí, that is, motherís brother."

The complexity involved in identifying the different social groups in which the people lived, is simple compared to understanding Aboriginal relationships to other people.

A.P. Elkin Aboriginal commented on these relationships by saying: "The Aborigines reckon their relationships throughout the whole community and even beyond the borders of any one tribe. Indeed, every one with whom a person comes in contact is regarded as related to him (or her), and the kind of relationship must be ascertained so that the two persons concerned will know what their mutual behavior should be. In other words, relationship is the basis of behavior; indeed, it is the anatomy and physiology of Aboriginal society and must be understood if the behavior of the Aborigines as social beings is to be understood....What they do in effect is to enlarge the family for the purpose of social behavior until it embraces the whole tribe, and they do this not by increasing the number of relationship terms and speaking of third cousins, great-uncles, or anything of that sort, but by classifying various groups of the community under the normal relationship terms of mother, father, uncle, aunt and so on, going no father up and down than grandparent and grandchild, nor as a rule, collaterally [sideways] than second cousin." (
"This principle applies also to the brothers and sisters of my parents, grandparents or grandchildren, Thus, fatherís brother, according to principle (ii), is father, by motherís brother is quite distinct, being called by a special term, say, Ďuncleí; likewise, motherís sister is mother, but fatherís sister is Ďauntí. Following from this are the facts that while my fatherís brotherís children are my brothers and sisters, my motherís brotherís children are my cross-cousins; and that my motherís sisterís children are my brothers and sisters, whereas my fatherís sisterís children are my cross-cousins. Further, my fatherís fatherís brother being fatherís father [principle ii], his son is Ďfatherí to me; but my sisterís son is not my fatherís brother, but my fatherís cross-cousin, and I call him Ďuncleí; that is I classify him with my motherís brother, while his sister is grouped with my mother. There are two important social facts associated with this third principle which makes its operation clearer; in the first place, my father and his brothers and sisters, and also his fatherís brotherís children, all belong to one Ďcountryí, one local subdivision of the tribe, whereas my mother and her brother and also her fatherís brotherís children belong to another Ďcountryí. Now this difference of country or local group is reflected in the use of distinct terms for them, namely Ďfatherí and Ďfatherís sisterí for the first lot, and Ďmotherí and motherís brother for the other group. The second fact is that in many Australian tribes two men frequently exchange sisters in marriage. This means, for example, that my motherís brotherís wife is actually my fatherís sister, and further, that my motherís brotherís children are in fact my fatherís sisterís children. Hence, with a very few exceptions, the one term is used for all cross-cousins, be they the children of motherís brother or of fatherís sister. In the former case they are matrilateral and in the latter patrilateral, cross cousins. On the basis of these gener

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