Kinship Systems of the Australian Aborigines

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The kinship system of the Australian Aborigines is designed to establish social organization among the Aborigine. The kinship system is devised with a set of laws that dictate how individuals will engage in social interactions with each other. The system predominantly focuses on marriage as this is the basis of social relationships forming. The system is very complicated and has been a mystery for individuals outside of the community, long thought to be the Australian underbelly. “Since the very early years of anthropology, Australian Aboriginal kinship has fascinated researchers in the field as well as theorists. Its complexity is considerable and, as some have remarked, its mechanical and logical beauty is astonishing” (Dousset, 2011 np). The system separates groups into various subsets and determines which groups can marry with each other. Individuals in each group belong to the same family, as they are seen as a part of the human family tree.

For the Aborigine, family can be established without the need for individuals to be biologically related. According to Swain, (1993), individuals who live close together and share food or resources together could become family. This is very different from United States society where family is only considered to be individuals who are related by blood. Kinship also determines how family members interact with each other. The Aborigine are expected to share material possessions with their family members and they expect to be allowed to do the same. This again is different from our society in that each family member has the right to their own material possessions. While it is socially acceptable to share with each other, especially among siblings, it is not a mandatory requirement. The kinship system of the Aborigine also dictates that property will be passed down through patrilineal inheritance. This would mean that only sons are entitled to the property of their father. This is very different from the United States where individuals are able to dictate in their will their own preference on who obtains their wealth.

Kinship is a process that dictates almost every aspect of Aboriginal society. This is in stark contrast to the system in the United States. While marriage in the United States does form families it does not determine whether these families remain intact. For the Aboriginal society kinship, ties are for life and cannot be terminated at will. Kinship does not impact United States society as much as it does for the Aborigine. 


Dousset, L. (2011). Australian aboriginal kinship.

Swain, T. (1993). A place for strangers: Towards a history of Australian Aboriginal being. Cambridge University Press.