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What is Phratry and Moiety

Updated on May 19, 2012


A phratry can be defined as a unilineal descent group composed of two or more clans. The members of a clan may feel they have particularly close ties with other clan or clans of the phratry. A kinship group which is one half of a dual division of the society is a moiety.

Phratries are found in very few societies of the world. They were reported from Hopi, Navaho and some other red Indians from United States, Muria Gonds of Madhya Pradesh, Rabhas of Assam, the Ao Nagas of Nagaland and the Raj Gonds of Andhra Pradesh are the examples from India.

Based on the principles of descent, phratries can also be classified into two types: Matriphratries and Patriphratires .

The phratries in a society can be named or may not be named. They may be or may not be exogamous. Like for example, among the Hopis, the phratries are exogamous and among the Crow Red Indians, they are endogamous. The phratries are characterized by common religious obligations and observe common religious rites. A phratry may constitute an important political unit. Among the Aztecs of Mexico the phratries are important political units in the structure of the empire. A phratry may be associated with totemism like among the Muria Gonds.

A phratry constitutes a group characterized by solidarity. The clans in a phratry retain their separate identity but each clan has some kind of special affinity with the phratry. The term Phratry is derived from a Greek word Phrater which means a brother. Thus, in the final analysis, a phratry is a kin group of brotherhood in which there are several clans combined together.


The term Moiety is derived from a French word meaning half. When a society is divided into two groups so that every person is necessarily a member of one or the other groups, the dichotomy results in the formation of two moieties.

Compared to Phratries, moieties have a wider occurrence in the various societies of the world. Murngin in Australia, Tingit Red Indians of British Columbia, Winnebago Indians of United States, the Ao Nagas, Rengrna Nagas and Angami Nagas of Nagaland, Gonds and Korkus of Madhya Pradesh, the Bondos of Orissa and the Andhs of Adilabad district in Andhra Pradesh and the Todas of Nilgiris, are the examples of the societies where moieties axe present.

On the basis of the principles of descent governing the formation of the moieties, they can be classified into patrilineal moieties and matrilineal moieties.

Moieties can be named like among the Todas and may also be unnamed like among the Australian societies. A moiety is usually exogamous. and rarely endogamous. Moreover a moiety may constitute a totemic group like among the Bondos of Orissa. A moiety is always associated with a dual organization. Moiety is a half society. Hence wherever moieties occur, there should and will always be two moieties. This kind of dual organization helps an easy detection of kinship relationships. In dual organizations one moiety may be linked to the other through complementary roles in the form of exchange of specific services.


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