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Aboriginal Kinship Systems Essay

Kinship is one of the main principles of a foraging culture’s social organization. The way they interact with each other relies on the relationship they have together. If one member wanted to marry another member of the society, they would not behave in the same manner as they would with a blood relative such as a mother or father. In foraging societies the nuclear family is the most important because it is very adaptable to changing situations (Nowak & Laird, 2010).

In the Aboriginal culture the importance of family is somewhat different from most other foraging societies. The nuclear family is still the basic kinship unit. Everything outside of the nuclear family is where the Aboriginal kinship organization starts to get more complex. In an article written by M.H. Monroe, he states that, “Aboriginal Australia kinship is one of the most complex systems in the world” (Monroe, 2010). In the Aboriginal kinship system the nuclear family is important, but there is more emphasis on the importance of the extended family. Kinship is so important to the Aborigines that they created Aboriginal Law that dictates the behavior of one member towards different relatives.

This Aboriginal Law is also known as the skin system. It is a classificatory system of identifying kin and the rules on the interactions with those kin. The skin system has nothing to do with skin color. It is a way of labeling a subsection within the tribe or group (Monroe, 2011). While reading and desperately trying to understand the extremely complex kinship system of the Aboriginal culture, I came to the conclusion that to fully understand their way of life you would have to live among them for a very long time. It is easy for the Aboriginal people to understand because they were brought up being taught this way of social organization. Any outsider would develop a migraine if they were thrown into this culture abruptly.

The value of the Aboriginal kinship system is that it helps the culture understand the relationships, obligations, and behaviors towards others in the society. The system helps define who will look after children if something happened to the parents, who can marry who, and who will take care of the elderly (Welch). Under the Aboriginal kinship system everyone is related somehow. Just as in other foraging cultures kinship is linked to sharing and gift giving. This along with a good understanding of the kinship system helps create and sustain bonds.

Aboriginal kinship laws also regulate who can marry who. A member within tribe can only marry someone outside of their skin. Men will have anywhere from two to four wives. With this kind of marriage system, the nuclear family can be very large consisting of all the wives and the children from all the wives. It is also not uncommon to also have the in-laws living with the family. One very interesting law within marriage is the mother-in-law rule. It is prohibited for anyone to talk directly to their mother-in-law. If communication needs to happen they must find a third party. This rule is for the man and woman (Welch).

It is amazing that societies we see as “simple” can be so extremely complex. When all of the busy, technologically run aspects of life are nonexistent, there seems to be more time to focus on the importance of the family aspect. There is more time to think about what you can do to help out your society.


Monroe, M. (2011). Australia: The land where time began. In Retrieved from

Nowak, B., & Laird, P. (2010). Cultural anthropology. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education.

Welch, D. (n.d.). Traditional life: Social organisation. Retrieved from

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