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What is Lineage

Updated on August 5, 2015

A unilineal group of kin who trace their descent from a known common ancestor is a lineage. A lineage is a unilineal descent group and is a consanguineal group.

The members of a lineage claim their descent from a common known ancestor and at the same time they can actually demonstrate the links between themselves and their known ancestor. This shows that lineage is based on Demonstrated Descent. Depending upon the types of rules of descent on which the lineages are based, they can be classified into patrilineages, matrilineages and ambilineages.

A unilineal group of kin who trace their descent from a known common male ancestor is a patrilineage. It is based on demonstrated patrilineal descent. Patrilineages are found among the Witoto Red Indians of Amazonia, Yanomamo Red Indians of Southern Venezuela and Miwok Red Indians of California. They are also found among the Nuer of Africa and also among the agricultural societies of Indiaand China.

A unilineal group of kin who trace their descent from a known common female ancestor is a matrilineage. It is based on demonstrated matrilineal descent. Matrilineages occur among the Veddas of Ceylone, Kurtchin of Northern Canada, Tikopia of South Pacific and in India, among Khasi and Garo of Meghalaya.

A consanguineal kin group each of whose members can trace their descent from a known common ancestor, either a male or female, constitutes an ambilineage. It is also called a ramage or a sept. Ambilineages occur among Nukuros of Micronesia, Samoans of Polynesia and Iban of Sarawak and also among the pastoralist societies of Tibet. Ambilineages are also reported from the agricultural societies of Japan.

Characteristics of Lineages

  1. Lineages are named: They can also have labels, symbols or even designations. In a very few societies, lineages are not named.
  2. Lineages are exogamotis: Since the members of a lineage are consanguine, i.e., related by blood, they have to choose their spouses from other lineages. Thus lineages in every society regulate marriages through exogamy.
  3. Lineages have common religious obligations: The lineages may have their own deities, priests and peculiar rituals for dealing with the supernatural. Lineages involve in the veneration of their respective ancestors. In fact, ancestor worship is one of the most important mechanisms through which lineages organize their living members.
  4. Lineages are characterized by corporate property ownership: In a majority of the societies, lineages act as a corporation because it owns property and controls the use and inheritance of this property. In this sense each lineage functions as a corporation in many societies. However in some societies the individual families within a lineage own property. In few societies lineages do not own property.
  5. Every lineage is a corporate enterprise: Its members may co-operate for economic purpose such as hunting, fishing, and, or even ceremonial purposes. In some societies, other types of kinship groups may act as corporate enterprise.
  6. Lineages are units of social control: It regulates the behavior of its members. Every lineage may have its own laws to regulate and punish the members of its group. Thus a lineage is playing a deliberate role in enforcing the laws of the society among the members of its group.
  7. Lineages are characterized by mutual aid: A lineage supports its members on important occasions in the life cycle. Lineages come to the rescue of its members in the time of need.
  8. Lineages also constitute feuding groups: Lineages within a single clan feud with each other and then at times unite to fight the members of other clans. The Nuer of Sudan and Tiv of Central Nigeria are the examples of the societies where the lineages are feuding groups.


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      sue77 5 years ago

      Your lineage is also your heritage which what we 'inherit' from our ancestors, which can include traditions, culture, values, language, lineage, bloodlines, property, land, heirlooms and even physical and characteristic traits. One of the better articles I've come across on this topic is at where the author provides some interesting insight into the nature of heritage, in particular family heritage.

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      matiko james 5 years ago

      too good