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Kinship Behaviours

In the grand tapestry of human cultures, kinship structures and behaviours offer unique threads that unite us all. Kinship plays a significant role in shaping social norms, responsibilities, and interactions among community members. Understanding these behaviours is fundamental to anthropology, enabling us to decipher the complex dynamics of human societies.

Joking Relations

Joking relationships, or relations de plaisanterie, are social agreements where certain forms of teasing, mocking, or practical joking are not only permitted but also expected among certain pairs of kin [1].

Common Traits of Joking Relations

  • Open mockery or teasing without negative repercussions
  • Specific familial or societal ties
  • Balancing of tension and conflict within society

Table 1: Examples of Joking Relations in Different Cultures

CultureKinship Relation
Many African societiesBetween paternal uncles and nephews
Inuit societiesIn-laws


Avunculate refers to the special relationship between a man and his maternal nephew. This relationship often entails specific responsibilities and is considered significant in many cultures [2].

Key Features of Avunculate

  • Special rights, duties, or expected behaviors between a man and his sister’s son
  • Can involve inheritance, guardianship, or special rituals

Table 2: Avunculate Relations in Different Cultures

CultureType of Avunculate Relation
Southwest Native American tribesUncle-nephew ties pivotal in tribal leadership succession
Roman societiesInfluence on nephew’s political career


Amitate, or co-mothering, involves two or more women sharing mothering roles, often in societies where kinship ties are crucial. It involves shared responsibilities and social privileges [3].

Central Aspects of Amitate

  • Shared childcare responsibilities and roles
  • Increased social and emotional support for the children
  • Enhanced cooperation and collective identity among women


Couvade is a custom where a father-to-be imitates the physical symptoms of pregnancy and childbirth, often performing symbolic rituals. It is thought to represent empathy and shared parental responsibility [4].

Characteristics of Couvade

  • Sympathetic pregnancy symptoms in men
  • Ritualistic behaviors representing childbirth
  • Enhanced father-child bond

Table 3: Examples of Couvade Customs

CultureCouvade Custom
Trobriand IslandersMen simulate labor pain
Certain Basque communitiesMen rest post childbirth


Teknonymy is a naming system where parents are referred to by their children’s names. This system reinforces societal values, such as respect for elders and familial connections [5].

Fundamental Aspects of Teknonymy

  • Parental identities linked with offspring
  • Emphasis on familial lineage and connections
  • Reinforced social hierarchy

Table 4: Teknonymy Examples

CultureTeknonymy Practice
Bali, IndonesiaParents referred to as ‘father/mother of [first child’s name]’
Traditional Arab societiesFather often called ‘Abu [son’s name]’


These various kinship behaviours—joking relations, avunculate, amitate, couvade, and teknonymy—demonstrate how societies worldwide employ different mechanisms to regulate social behavior, build familial ties, and maintain cultural continuity. The diversity of these practices underscores the complexities of human societies, reinforcing the importance of anthropological studies in understanding the myriad threads that weave our collective human story.


[1] Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1940). On Joking Relationships. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 13(3), 195-210.

[2] Schneider, D. M. (1961). The distinctive features of matrilineal descent groups. In D. M. Schneider & K. Gough (Eds.), Matrilineal Kinship. University of California Press.

[3] Gow, P. (1991). Of Mixed Blood: Kinship and History in Peruvian Amazonia. Clarendon Press.

[4] Pitt-Rivers, J. (1977). The Fate of Shechem or The Politics of Sex: Essays in the Anthropology of the Mediterranean. Cambridge University Press.

[5] Al-Zwaini, L. (2002). The Mareer and their Teknonymy: Tracing the Arabian influence. In K. Steiner & L. Al-Zwaini (Eds.), Genres and Techniques of Traditional Yemeni Poetry. Brill.

Anthropologist Vasundhra - Author and Anthroholic

Vasundhra, an anthropologist, embarks on a captivating journey to decode the enigmatic tapestry of human society. Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, she unravels the intricacies of social phenomena, immersing herself in the lived experiences of diverse cultures. Armed with an unwavering passion for understanding the very essence of our existence, Vasundhra fearlessly navigates the labyrinth of genetic and social complexities that shape our collective identity. Her recent publication unveils the story of the Ancient DNA field, illuminating the pervasive global North-South divide. With an irresistible blend of eloquence and scientific rigor, Vasundhra effortlessly captivates audiences, transporting them to the frontiers of anthropological exploration.

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