Encyclopedia Article


Most cultures have some form of kinship system, and depending on the culture, who is included and how the system is set up can vary. In many contemporary Western traditions, kinship is determined by one's descent from and connection to the male lineage of an extended biological network. However, depending on the system, kinsmen can include women, men, spirits, or animals. Kinship can be important as it can define what members of society are viable sexual partners for reproduction. For instance, those who are considered your kin are excluded as acceptable matches. On the other hand, kinship can also define social connections, allegiances, and communal networks of reciprocity.

The Navajo are matrilineal, meaning a kinship system based on the mother’s family rather than the fathers, this means that when married all property is owned by women and the men move into the wife’s household. Additionally, the Navajo kinship system is based on clans, and when children are born they have two clans, their mother’s and their father’s. Their mother’s clan is the dominant clan, “born to” and their father’s clan is “born for”. It is considered incest for any Navajo to engage in relations with someone who is part of their mother, father, or grandparent’s clans. The children will have stronger ties to their mother’s clan.

Photo Credit: 

"Barber family, Fruitland, NM, circa 1952," photograph (2006_20_281). All Farmington Museum, Farmington, NM. All rights reserved. Use with permission only.

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