Essay on the Rule of Avoidance in Kinship

The father-in-law should avoid daughter-in-law. The bride must also avoid mother- in-law’s brothers. The son-in-law must also avoid his mother-in-law and other female relatives of his wife, [mostly mother-in-law’s sisters], (i) Amongst the Yukafir, the son-in-law is not supposed to see the faces of his mother-in-law and father-in-law. (ii) Amongst the Ostiyak, the married man is not supposed to see the face of his mother-in-law at least till he gets a child, (iii) Amongst the Aruntas, if the mother-in-law enters or approaches the hut of her son-in-law she would be excommunicated. (iv) Amongst the Veddas of Ceylone elder brother and sisters are not supposed’ to live in the same house and even eat together.

In some societies, even the husband and wife are not supposed to touch each other or show affection in the presence of others. Calling of the personal name is also tabooed. Example: The Hindu wife is not supposed to call her husband by his name.

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The rule of avoidance is believed to serve two purposes:

1. Avoidance rules serve to stop the development of complications in the relations between the parties concerned. It is said it seeks to minimise the chance of the development of open hostility in the relations between the parties.

2. According to the Murdock G.P., rules of avoidance exists because they reinforce incest taboos.

Short essay on Joking Relationships:

“A joking relationship involves a particular combination of friendliness and antagonism be­tween individuals and groups in certain social situations. In these situations one individual or group is allowed to mock or ridicule the other without offence being taken”. Duncan Mitchell.

The usage of the joking relationship permits to tease and make fun of the other. Such relation­ships prevail between a grandson or grand-daughter on the one hand, his or her grand-father and grand-mother, on the other.

Example:

(i) Amongst the Oraons of Orissa and the Baigas of Madhya Pradesh such relationships prevail between the grandfather and grandmother and their grand chil­dren. Majumdar and Madan have cited the example of a case in which a grandfather had married his grand-daughter and got a child in her.

(ii) Amongst the Crow-Indians such relationships may prevail between a man and his wife’s sisters. They could be very friendly and even talk freely about sex matters.

(iii) Amongst the original inhabitants of Fiji Island a son-in-law could be very friendly with his father-in-law and could ask for anything in his house and he may even spoil a few articles just for fun. The father-in-law is expected to bear with that and not to react harshly.

A.R. Radcliffe Brown in his book “Structure and Function in Primitive Society”, 1952 has thrown much light on this type of relationship. The origins and causes of joking relationships are not clearly known.

Some enthropologists say this kind of relationship acts as a “safety valve” for giving expression or release to the pent up feelings and emotions. As Chappie and Coon have said these relationships help the individuals to develop intimacy and closeness among themselves.

3. Teknonymy:

According to this usage, a kin is not referred to directly but is referred to through another kin. Examples: (i) In a traditional Hindu family, wife does not directly utter the name of her husband but refers to her husband as the father of so and so, say, Deepti or Swathi, or Vikram or Varun, (ii) amongst the Hopi, a woman refers to her mother-in-law as the grand-mother of so and so.

James Frazer has said this kind of a usage is found amongst people in many places such as Australia, New Guinea, China, North Siberia, Africa, British Columbia, Andaman Island, and so on.

4. Avunculate [Avunciate]:

This refers to “the special relationship that persists in sone societies between a man and his mother’s brother”

This term, from the Latin “avunculus” [mother’s brother] is sometimes used to describe the authority of the mother’s brother over his sister’s children in a matrilineal society. This usage is found in a matriarchal system in which prominence is given to the maternal uncle in the life of his nephews and nieces.

5. Amitate:

Amitate is a usage which gives special role to the father’s sister. Here the father’s sister is given more respect than the mother. Examples: This usage is more prevalent amongst the Kongs of Polynesia, Thodas of Nilgiri, and amongst the Crow-Indians.

Amongst the Thodas, the child gets its name not through its parents but through the father’s sister. Because, naming the child is her privilege. This usage is normally prevalent in patrilineal systems.

6. Couvade:

This kinship usage involves only husband and wife. According to this usage, the husband is made to lead the life of an invalid along with his wife whenever she gives birth to a child. He is then not supposed to engage himself in hard work but expected to observe dieting and certain other taboos.

Anthropologists have observed the practice of this usage amongst the Khasis and Thodas of India, the Karibs of South Africa.

According to Malinowski, the usage of couvade contributes to a strong marital bond between the husband and wife. Some have given a phychoanalytical explanation to this practice. “They have attributed this usage to the husband’s desire to lighten the wife’s discomfort by a process of partici­pation through identification”.

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