Australian Aboriginal Kinship - The Subsection or 'skin Name' System

The Subsection or 'skin Name' System

The subsection or 'skin name' system is a division of society into a number of groups, each of which is given a name that can be used to refer to individual members of that group. There are systems with two such groupings (these are known as 'moieties' in kinship studies), systems with four (sections), six and eight (subsection systems). Some language groups extend this by having distinct male and female forms, giving a total of sixteen skin names, such as the Pintupi (listed below) and Warlpiri. While membership in skin groups is ideally based on blood relations, Australian Aboriginal kin systems are classificatory, meaning that even people who are not actual blood relations are assigned to a skin system. They are also universal, meaning that every member of the society is assigned a position in the system.

Skin systems are found in Aboriginal societies across much of Central, Western and Northern Australia. On the basis of detailed analysis and comparison of the various skin systems and their terminologies, it has been suggested that the skin system was an innovation from the Daly River region of the Northern Territory, which then spread rapidly southwards to other groups.

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