Primitive Society

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Kinship Behavior

In primitive communities . . . a specific mode of behavior may be rigidly determined for each and every possible form of relationship. From the point of view of any individual this means that his tribesmen are classified into certain categories, each one of which implies an altogether special set of social rules to be observed by him. He is bound to render services to an individual of one class; with a member of another he may jest and take liberties; with persons of a third category he must have nothing to do except through intermediaries; and so forth. Proximity of relationship may or may not count; usually, as Mr. Brown has explained for the Kariera, a savage owes the same type of conduct to a more remote as to a closer kinsman addressed by the same relationship term, but the intensity of the obligation is greater for the nearer relationship. As this author further remarks, a native may be at a complete loss how to treat a stranger who falls outside of the established rubrics. What most frequently happens is that by a legal fiction, or it may be by marriage with a member of the community, the new arrival comes to occupy a definite status. Thus, in a Plains Indian myth a young boy finds a strange girl whom he adopts as his sister; automatically she becomes the sister of his brothers, who accordingly are prohibited from marrying her. In real life these implications are consistently carried out, so that the stranger would be a daughter to her adopters’ parents, a sister-in-law to their wives, and so forth. In short, she would be classified for the entire family circle and her social relations would be regulated thereby.1

1Lowie, R.H.n/an/an/an/a, , 80–81 (Liveright Publishing Company. By permission).

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Chicago: Primitive Society in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . Primitive Society, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , Primitive Society. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from