The Inuit also develop kinship from labor and shared proximity. In his study of the Qiqiqtamiut, Guemple decided that kinship was non-genealogical defined and that “social relatedness begins in the local group” (1979:93. Cited in Nuttall, 200: 37). The kinship is strengthened and made based on the close proximity they share.
Graburn, who analyzed Inuit communities on the Ungava coast, came to similar conclusions that social relatedness begins with residence and co-operation in hunting and fishing activities (Graburn, 1964. Cited in Nuttall, 2000:37). This is reflected in Nuttall’s (2000) own research in that those that one hunts with are not necessarily one’s kin but through shared experience probably do end up becoming one’s kin. Finally there are instances where people have a choice to who their kin are, allowing them to create or negate relationships.
The Kangersuatsiarmiit, of northwestern Greenland, have just this sort of choice to regard a non-kin relationship as something similar to a genealogical or affinal link (Nuttall, 2000). For example, two good friends feel close enough to be family so they start to refer to each other as “brother” and the person is considered from there on as family kin. Similarly a second cousin’s spouse may become aleqq (a man’s way of saying ‘older sister’) and she may refer to him as aqqaluk (a woman’s way of saying ‘younger brother’) and their relationship would then entail all the responsibilities a brother and sister have for each other.
These sorts of relationships are formed between friends and/or distant relations because it gives “a much larger set of symbols and meanings that people use actively and consciously to construct the idea of community” (Nuttall, 2000: 43). This also forms a social support network whereby individuals have obligations and duties to each other because of the kin terms they use. It is used when distributing meat from a large kill between all the members of society, although using a kinship term does not automatically entitle you to a share.
The Kangersuatsiarmiit also have the option to ‘forget’ genealogical relationships if the deem them to be unsatisfactory. 3 This could be due to a number of reasons. The family members may simply have fallen out over an issue and are angry at each other. It could be that one of the two have begun to neglect the obligations they have to the other and subsequently the relationship was terminated, or in some cases because they’ve had sexual relations. This pragmatic denial of kinship is used when first cousins develop sexual relationships. Nuttall has heard people say, “she used to be my relative but now she is my woman” (2000: 43-44).
It is also not uncommon to hear Kangersuatsiarmiit referring to an ilaqutarit (close kin) as though they were actually an eqqarleq (someone who is from a different extended family). The frequency of this occurrence means that choosing to disown a genealogical relation is as easy as simply denying that it exists4. There is, however, a limit to who one can disown. Nuttall (2000) notes that the Kangersuatsiarmiit cannot disown their parents, grandparents, or siblings. Heinrich (1963. Cited in Nuttall, 2000) also found that there were optative and non-optative categories of Inuit kinship.
So, although one may fall out with their siblings, it is not seen as acceptable to deny the genealogical relationship. In conclusion, anthropologists have shown that kinship is not about genetic relatedness by looking at societies where genetics do not determine parentage, where labor and proximity play a part in kinship, and where individuals can choose who they regard as kin. However, it is important to mention that, although most anthropologists do not see kinship as solely biological, they do not concede that kinship is independent of biology as a factor in relationships.
After all, even the Kangersuatsiarmiit do not have the option of disowning their closest biological relations as kinsmen. Instead, most anthropologists yield to the view supported by Barnes that societies can be classed as acknowledging “the relations of nature to fatherhood and motherhood are different… physical motherhood is to physical fatherhood as nature is to culture” (Barnes, 1973: 72). In other words, a mother’s relations to her children is physically observable as pregnancy and birth, but a man’s relation to a child is constructed from the cultural setting into which that child is born.
Finally, one can say that each society, due to its unique cultural beliefs and practices, has separate and rational assumptions as to what is and what is not kinship. Therefore, it is an enormously difficult task to determine a cross-cultural theory of kinship and it is a concept that is still being debated today.
References Barnes, J. (1973) Genetrix: genitor::nature:culture. In J. Goody (ed. ) The character of kinship, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Holy, L. (1996) Chapter 1: First Principles. Anthropological Perspectives on Kinship, Pluto: London Nuttall, M.(2000) Choosing Kin: sharing and subsistence in a Greenlandic hunting community. In Schweitzer, P. (2000, ed. by)
Dividends of Kinship: meanings and uses of social relatedness. London New York: Routledge. Sahlins, M. (1977) Chapter 2: critique of scientific socio-biology: kin selection. The use and abuse of biology: an anthropological critique of sociobiology. London: Tavistock. 1 Similar theories of procreation are found in the Madak (Clay, 1977) and Gimi (Gillison, 1980) of Melanesia and also has been documented in Turkish Villages where a woman is nothing more than a ‘field’ for the man’s seed (Delaney, 1986).
All cited in Holy, 1996. 2 Similar results have been found in Hawaii (Howard 1970; Ellis 1969 . Both cited in Sahlins) 3 Also noted by Guemple (1972c. Cited in Nuttall, 2000: 43) 4 Rosaldo (1980: 183. cited in Nuttall, 2000) made similar observations on the ‘discovery’ and ‘forgetting’ of genealogical relations. Sahlins (1962:164. cited in Sahlins 1977) also notes that among the Naroi Fijian villagers can choose those cousins they call ‘brother’ and those they do not.