Kinship Systems of the Hindu-Kush

Richard F. Strand

Kinship is the basis of society in the Hindu-Kush, and at the core of each society's kinship system is a set of basic kin terms. To understand any society in the region, one must first know the categories of persons designated by the kin terminology. Presented here are basic kin terms that I have recorded for the societies listed below. The systems are depicted diagrammatically, with Ego in the center of each diagram. There are separate diagrams for male and female Egos. In most instances, the Alters shown represent the archetypal kin relationship; most basic terms also encompass more distant kin in the society.

Only basic kin terms appear in the diagrams. (At this time only terms of reference are given; terms of address will appear later.) Compound or descriptive terms appear only when they are nontransparent. Among the Âṣkuṇu-, Kâmkata-, and Kalaṣa-alâ-speaking peoples, basic terms of reference require a Personal Suffix that indicates whether the hearer or a grammatical third person stands as Ego (e.g., Kâmviri t′ot ‘[my] father’, t′ot-ša ‘your father’, t′ot-as ‘his/her father’). Terms that do not take such suffixes, such as the words for "agnate" (Kâmviri t′otbřo ‘agnate’ [lit., ‘father-brother’]), are not counted as basic kin terms and are not shown in the diagrams.

A comparison of these systems reveals that the systems of the Nuristâni languages cluster as one group, with a division of Northern (Kâmkata and Vâsi) vs. Southern (Âṣkuṇu and Kalaṣa) paralleling the overall linguistic division of these languages. Close to these, but with their own characteristics, are the Kal′aṣa-mun and Khów systems of Chitral. More distant and complex is the Aćharêtâ′ system, which shows affinities with systems to the southeast.

Underlying all the systems is the principle that a child inherits its social identity from its father. Such identities trace back through the patriline to an agnatic founder. A founder's patrilineal male descendant is his "Boy" (Kâmviri -dâra), his patrilineal female descendant is his "Boys' Daughter" (-dârea˜ ǰü), and he is their "Grandfather" (v′oa). Any two males who are "Boys" of the same founder are Agnates (t′otbřo). Rarely, an agnatic founder may be a female, as with the Kom âr′âa dâra ‘Rich-Woman's Boys’. Traditionally, Nuristânis would not marry their agnates' daughters, so that a person's mother would always be the daughter of another agnatic group. It follows that their kin terms distinguish one's mother's agnates from one's own and one's affines from other kin.

Thus, in one's parents' generation, male kin are either Fathers (Kâmviri t′ot, etc.) or Mother's Brothers (m′âm). Female kin are all Mothers (n′ua). Collateral Fathers and Mothers ("uncles" and "aunts" in Western terminology) are typically distinguished with a adjectival prefix indicating their seniority relative to one's parents (e.g., ǰ′eṣtot ‘eldest-father’, mâǰ′am tot ‘middle father’, and kâň′aštot ‘youngest-father’). These prefixes reflect differences in inheritance and authority. In a few systems collateral females are distinguished by special terms (e.g., Nišei-alâ pipi ‘father′s sister’ vs. iei ‘mother’). Upon marriage, one's spouse's parents become distinguished from other kin with new terms (Kâta-viri sać′üř ‘father-in-law’ and c̣′uc̣ ‘mother-in-law’, etc.), emphasizing the strong bond of mutual support that ideally exists between children and parents-in-law.

In one's own generation, all male kin start out as Brothers (Kâmviri bř′o). Later, some become distinguished as Brothers-in-Law (ẓâm′i, etc.) when they become one's affines. A similar distinction is made in some systems (Kalaṣa-alâ and Saňu-vîri [female Ego]) for female kin, who are either Sisters (Nišei-alâ sos) or Sisters-in-Law (vřök). Otherwise, all female kin are Sisters. Seniority, reflecting authority, is typically distinguished for Brothers and Sisters in kin terms of address, and some systems also distinguish seniority with terms of reference. Unique terms occur for spouses (Kâmviri štr′i ‘wife’ and m′oč ‘husband’). Because polygyny is allowed, special terms exist for co-wives (iâr′i). The Southern Nuristâni group of languages distinguishes seniority among a female Ego's husband's brothers.

In one's children's generation, the children of a Sister (ṣâpṣ′i), who belong with her husband's agnates, are distinguished from others, who are either Sons or Daughters (p′ütr ‘son’ or ǰ′ü ‘daughter’, etc.). Affines are distinguished when they marry one's children (v′u ‘daughter-in-law’ and źâm′o ‘son-in-law).

In other generations there are only distinctions of gender: e.g., Kâmviri v′oa ‘grandfather’ vs. vâ·′i ‘grandmother’ and nâv′o ‘grandson’ vs. n′ut ‘granddaughter’. The indigenous systems of Chitral (Khowar and Kalaṣa-mun) do not distinguish gender among grandchildren. Aćharêtâ′ alone distinguishes mother's parents and daughter's children from others in their generations. If exactitude is required, kin in generations above one's grandparents may be further distinguished with a prefix, e.g., Kâmviri pâr- ‘great-’, as in pârp′arvoa ‘great-great-grandfather’.

Choose a kinship system:

Ṣup′u Khów
Uṣ′üt Kal′aṣa-mun
Kât′a (Kt′ivi) K′om Aćhar′îta
Saṇu Amešdeš
Nišeigrâm Bhaṭ′era