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Social organization and kinship
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Among the Evenk, the patrilineal clan is the exogamous unit, but the maternal line is still deemed important. Residence tends to be neo-local, with an ideal uxorilocal primo-residence. The kinship terminology is classificatory, of Iroquois type.
The clan is not a territorial or local unit: its members are scattered between a number of small nomadic units spread over a huge region and often very far from each other. The nomadic group rearranges its structure depending on the season: in the snowy seasons, when individual hunting dominates, it is made of a single nuclear family or a few unmarried brothers. During the snow-free times, when the economic life focuses on the herd, it comprises a few nuclear families. The intercrossing of their yearly journeys puts members of diverse clans in neighbourhood relationship.
each Evenk defines him- or herself through his/her clan name, family name, and personal name. To each of these names is associated the toponym of the main river skirted by his/her ancestors, parents or him-/herself during the course of the nomadic life. No individual is ever an absolute orphan: he or she will be put in relation to a group, be it by adoption or through distant ties of kin or kith.
The main hierarchical relations result from the elder / younger distinction. Apart from any and all kinship relation, the younger owes respect and submissiveness to the elder. His or hers is the first choice in matters of hunting or herding range, the best pieces of the meat, and so on. However, a married younger man or woman will have more authority than his/her unwed elders.
The alliance choices still are the province of the elders (parents or elder siblings). However young people now have the possibility to refuse the prospective husband or wife. When a marriage is set up without the intervention of the two young people concerned, the help of an intermediary, man or woman, if possible foreigner two both clans. To the potential bride he or she will extoll the mastery of the women's tasks of her possible future, and to the man the woman's huntcraft - the ideal partner is the one that knows his/her way around the other gender's work: the mastery of one's own gender's techniques goes without saying.
The wedding often takes place well after the couple's first encounter. While it's mainly celebrated Russian style nowadays, important Evenk characters such as wishsongs and the transmission of the fire from the groom's mother to the bride endure. Each party tries to overbid the other on the dowry and the matrimonial compensation to prove itself the mightiest and most generous. Most of the accumulated goods go to the new couple. Both sister exchange and sister for aunt return between two clans are quite common.
The new family's residence goes through successive phases. Ideally, it begins as uxorilocal for a few years, particularly if the wife's parents' group is lacking in male workforce, or if its more influent than the man's. Then shall follow some years with the man's parents' group, before finally going neolocal and founding a new nomadic group.
Actually, pragmatic considerations, constraints and opportunities arising from the nomadic lifestyle or the two groups relative strength play a big part in residential choices.

Author(s): A.Lavrillier
Date created: 2004-03-01 - Date modified: 2004-04-15


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