San People: An Overview of Kinship and Culture Systems
By Myranda Grecinger
According to Cultural anthropologyby Nowak, B., & Laird, P. (2010) the San people, a foraging tribe in Africa, are traditionally a band society made up of family and relatives. Foraging bands such as the san survive by going where there is an abundance of food and water. They practice a gender based division of labor just like many other foraging bands, primarily with women caring for children and foraging for vegetation and men hunting and providing other skills such as tool making.
Along with being hard workers and doing what is needed, the san people are also leisurely people who enjoy each other’s company and heavily rely on each other. Social ties are considered very important in band society because no one can simply be in it for his own benefit. San meals are a wonderful example of the way things work in their communities, every bit of food is pooled together and passed around for everyone to have a share, and every table is a smorgasbord of bits and pieces from each family’s contribution to the meal. With everyone in the community contributing, san people are not require to toil every minute of every day for survival, in fact, our textbook says they spend a few days a week working and providing for their families and the camp and the rest just enjoying life and their surroundings.
The san people have bilateral descent which means they consider themselves as related to both sides of their families which is important because in an extreme event such as scarcity of water, the san people are able to find relatives in camps that do have water. The close kinship arrangements of the san people are very important in all aspects. Their communities practice polygyny and men marry their brides before they reach maturity.
Women are very important in their communities because of their position in helping provide food and care for the children, because of this they even have a say in the major decision making for the community. Due to the fact that their brides are so young and that fact that there are few women available san men move into the brides families home and begin contributing to her family’s needs. This arrangement continues for years, and the man is patient and waits for her, always doing his part in her community, securing his place with her. Even though divorce is common in san marriages, many of their practices leading up to marriage and during marriage show how important a good woman is to a san man.
The kinship system in this culture affects all things, but most clearly, how their marriage rituals work, how the people spend their free time, and even where the live during drought. Kinship determines if one band will be taken in by another in drought times when water is scarce and thankfully, the san have both the maternal and paternal sides of their families to go to. When a man in a san band chooses a bride, he is not only choosing her, but her family too, they are now his responsibility and because of their share and share a-like system, he is theirs as well. Family is so important and keeping up social ties is so high on the list that work almost seems secondary to spending time leisurely together in this community. In a foraging band such as the san people, kinship is everything.
Nowak, B., & Laird, P. (2010). Cultural anthropology. San Diego, Bridgepoint Education, Inc. https://content.ashford.edu
Preview these books at amazon for free!
© 2011 Myranda Grecinger