Friday, March 23, 2007

Kinship Anyone?

For the most part, kinship is not as important to those of us in the western world as it is to those in developing countries. Many of us live hundreds of miles away from brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents etc. It is likely that we have relatives we have not even met and probably will never meet--and might not even care to! However, the vast majority of tribal cultures are organized around their kinship relationships. Who they fight, how they settle disputes, the work they do in the village, the gifts they give, their status in the village, and obligations to each other are all determined by kinship relationships.

The catch for us as westerners is to understand that tribal people don't view their relatives as we view our relatives. There are five main types of kinship systems, which all kinship systems include in one way or another. In the Hawaiin kinship system, a person calls all of the males in the his father's generation the same thing he would call his father (i.e. all of his uncles would be called whatever he calls his father). The same with the females in his mother's generation--all of the 'aunts' would be called whatever he calls his mother. Because of this, the children of those 'aunts' and 'uncles' (cousins) would be called that person's brothers and sisters, and they would relate to each other in that way.

There are four other kinship systems: Iroquois, Sudanese, Crow and Eskimo. These names were derived from the particular people group where the system was discovered. Each system has its own way of tracing descent and in turn, how they relate to each other because of what they call each other. In our thinking, we would naturally expect that our dad is more responsible for our well-being than he is someone else's kids. However, in one tribe, the father is more responsible for his sister's kids than he is for his own children.

Why in the world is studying kinship important to planting a tribal church? Kinship dictates how the people relate to each other through gift-giving, obligations, privileges etc. Understanding kinship is one of the keys to know why they do what they do and why they interrelate the way they do--and even later on down the road how they relate to us.

Knowing this will help us to teach the Bible more clearly when we start talking about relationships in Scripture - God as our Father, we are His children - brothers and sisters in Christ, and even how God wants us to relate to those outside of the Body of Christ regardless of where they fall in line with being kin.

(Thank you to Sonya for writing this!)

Love you all,