Kinship Systems of the San Culture Essay Sample

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Kinship systems in foraging based societies provide support for all of the individuals in the band community. The San, also known as Bushmen, of Kalahari Desert are one of the best-known foraging communities in the modern world. They are also one of the most, tight-knit bands held together by kinship. In chapter three of Cultural Anthropology written by Barbara Nowak and Peter Laird, describe the kinship relationships of the San by stating, “A meal for every household is composed of items of food from each other’s labor; they are not strangers. Generosity in sharing maintains kin and social relationships while providing a safety net”. Each member of the San culture is not out for their self or themselves. Instead they rely in their kinships from the other members of their band, and surrounding family, to come together come together collectively to support each other. The San rely on the kinship they have with one another in several different areas of their lives. Three of the major areas include gathering and distributing food, deciding on who and when to marry as well as handling divorce

For foraging based societies finding food is essential to survival. The San, like so many other foraging societies, move with the changing seasons to maintain their food supplies. With this constant moving, unity within the band is necessary to ensure everyone receives food. Nowak and Laird say “Not only do families pool the day’s production, but the entire camp—residents and visitors alike—shares equally in the total quantity of food available. The evening meal of any one family is made up of portions of food from each of the other families in the band”. It is this kind of kinship that strengthens the community. The band is made up of kin and family relationships, both of which are very important and equally viewed. The San people would not turn away a neighbor, just as they would not turn away their son or mother from sharing food. They also work together in gathering food. If a hunter is sick their family may not get quite as much so another member from the band will help to pick up the slack so that the family with the sick hunter will still have food to eat. The kinship between the members of the San help to ensure they work together equally in collecting and distributing food.

The ties between kin of the San culture also help decide who and when to marry. San women normally marry at very young ages. Their families will normally help to choose the man she marries, or at least try to persuade her decision. Even though the family of the young bride can not make her marry some one she dose not want to marry, they will not allow her to marry close family members. Due to these marriages occurring at such young ages the family of the bride will have the groom live with them until the young bride to mature enough to be able to handle all the responsibilities of running a household. This kinship between the groom and his in-laws allows the bride’s family the opportunity to ensure that the groom will treat his young wife the right way. If the family of the bride can build a strong enough kinship with the groom they ensure that he will provide meat for them in their elderly age from. Marriage also builds kinship between bands. When two different bands are joined together by marriage they then extend their kin ties. With the new kinship formed the bands have many more people to help in times of need.

Even if the ties of marriage do not last, kinship is still observed within the San community. Kinship always remains very important in the San culture. So much so that if it begins to break down due to divorce entire bands would fall apart. Unfortunately, divorce is a common occurrence even in the San society. However the ties of kinship are still strong. Nowak and Laird say this about divorce, “it typically does not result in the breakdown of kinship ties. People are often related in a variety of ways, so the linkages exist beyond marriage”. Because kinship last beyond divorce, the San community can still work equally.

The kinship of the San culture ties is similar to the relationships bonds in Western society. I was raised in a culture where we look out for one another. If a family member, neighbor or kin is sick, we will be there to help take care of them in times of need. Just as the San culture shares food evenly, even if others in their band are too sick or cannot get food on their own, our western culture helps out the needy by using food stamps. A difference between our western society and the San culture is how we deal with divorce. The kinship ties are so deeply imbedded with in the San culture, that divorce does not break down the unity within a band. It is different in the west. Individuals in western societies normally do not hold on tightly to the kinship ties made from marriage when dissolved through divorce. So many families are torn apart by divorce instead of maintaining healthy kinship relationships like the San culture does.

Kinship relationships are vitally important in every part of the lives of the San people. Nowak and Laird say “a San will find a relative in every band he or she visits. Reckoning kinship bilaterally is a strategy that is adaptive to times of scarcity. If a family is facing a shortage where they live, they can go to another band’s territory and find kin, a place to stay, and access to water”. By having kinship ties all over a San is never alone. The Western society can learn a lot about the importance of kinship ties from the San culture.


Nowak, B., & Laird, P. (2010). Cultural Anthropology. San Diego, California, United States of America. Retrieved from

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