Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.

Double Descent

Double Descent is a complex, fascinating social structure that defies the common binarity of descent patterns, wherein lineage is traced either patrilineally or matrilineally. In societies operating on the principle of Double Descent, kinship and social standing are determined through both maternal and paternal lines, each line serving different socio-economic roles.

Meaning of Double Descent in Anthropology

Double Descent: A Definition

Double Descent refers to the sociocultural practice where descent is reckoned through both the mother’s and the father’s line [1]. These dual systems are not haphazardly intertwined; they typically assign distinct roles and rights to each line. One side may influence economic and material inheritances, while the other side could determine social or religious affiliations [2].

Historical Context and Geographic Distribution

The phenomenon of Double Descent isn’t widespread and has been documented primarily among some African societies, such as the Yoruba in Nigeria, the Betsileo in Madagascar, and the Herero in Namibia [3]. Their complex socio-cultural traditions emphasize different aspects of lineage, leading to this distinct form of kinship system.

Case Study

The Yako of Nigeria

The Yako people of Nigeria provide an ideal illustration of double descent. Here, individuals belong to both a patrilineage and a matrilineage simultaneously. Patrilineal ties determine political roles, inheritance, and land ownership, while matrilineal bonds influence social relations, spiritual obligations, and the succession of personal property. This dichotomy promotes a balance of power between male and female roles within the community.

The Bijago of Guinea-Bissau

Double descent also plays an integral role within the Bijago society. Men’s group membership and identity are dictated by their father’s clan (patrilineage), and it determines their political standing and land rights. On the other hand, women inherit their mother’s clan membership (matrilineage), which defines their social and spiritual roles. This system emphasizes the necessity for both male and female contributions to maintain the social fabric of the community.

The Betsileo of Madagascar

The Betsileo people of Madagascar represent another unique implementation of double descent. Land inheritance is largely through the male line, while kinship and social relationships follow the matrilineal line. The duality of this system ensures a sense of unity and collective responsibility among community members.

The Toda People of South India

While Double Descent systems aren’t as prevalent in India compared to African societies, there are a few exceptions. A notable instance is found among the Toda people, a small pastoral community residing in the Nilgiri Hills of South India. For the Toda people, descent and inheritance rules exhibit characteristics of both patrilineal and matrilineal systems. On one hand, they follow a patrilineal system, where the father’s clan determines the individual’s clan membership and his dairy temple affiliations.

The dairy temples are a significant component of the Toda culture and religion, and roles in these temples are inherited patrilineally. On the other hand, there’s a matrilineal facet to their kinship system. Women have significant rights over land and property, with land typically being passed down from mother to daughter. Such dual descent systems create a balance of power and resources among the Toda people. This case highlights that while Double Descent may not be the norm in the Indian context, it still exists and offers a fascinating glimpse into the diversity and complexity of kinship systems in India.

Significance in Anthropological Studies

From an anthropological perspective, Double Descent serves as a crucial reminder of the diversity of human social structures. It challenges the dominant Eurocentric perspective that categorizes societies into simplistic binary descent systems, encouraging scholars to adopt a more nuanced understanding. Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance of context in anthropological analyses, highlighting the intersectionality of cultural, social, and economic factors in shaping societies.


In conclusion, the anthropological exploration of Double Descent offers a rich tapestry of complex social structures. By studying these descent systems, anthropologists can broaden their understanding of human societies and challenge simplistic binaries, thereby enriching the discourse in kinship studies.

Suggested Articles

What is Descent?Principles & TypesBilateral Descent
Matrilineal DescentPatrilineal DescentAmbilineal Descent
Descent GroupsDescent and AllianceUnilineal Descent


[1] Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1950). Introduction. In African systems of kinship and marriage (pp. 1-85). Oxford University Press. https://ia802607.us.archive.org/4/items/africansystemsof00radc/africansystemsof00radc.pdf

[2] Schneider, D. M. (1984). A critique of the study of kinship. University of Michigan Press.

[3] Fortes, M. (1953). The structure of unilineal descent groups. American anthropologist, 55(1), 17-41.

Avatar photo

Anthroholic helps the world learn Anthropology for Free. We strive to provide comprehensive and high quality content for deep understanding of the discipline.

Articles: 400

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below and subscribe to our newsletter

Leave a Reply