Kinship and Social Organisation

In the picture above there are three houses on one plot of land; there is also a pleasant grove, containing some old stands of rubber and cocoa trees. The centre house is the largest and is in front on the main path. It is flanked by two other smaller houses built with less expensive materials. As you may have guessed the middle one is lived in by a parental couple and the two others are spin offs with a son and a daughter, each with their own spouses and children. This cluster is of houses is typical of social organisation in floodplain communities: dense, covering many generations and a number of collateral kin and focused on one house, normally a parental one. On neighbouring plots of land there is often a sibling of the parental couple lives, forming another cluster.

What does kinship mean in a peasant community?

My problem was to understand the apparent flexibility and fluidity of kinship relations. By this I mean there did not seem any structure to say that this was kinship and that was economic or something else. Everything seemed to be changing, a young girl would call her mother, by a christian name, and address her grandmother with mummy. In addition, people always seemed to be moving house, rebuilding somewhere else and almost disowning their erstwhile kinspeople. Why was the whole community not falling apart? And simply moving into the overcrowded slums and peripheries of urban sprawls?

I will first describe four scenes which have helped me understand kinship and which epitomise the main themes in my understanding. And then I will go onto to look in more detail at an analysis of the meanings behind those descriptions.


1. Solano

In the early part of fieldwork I visited a couple who were living with their four young children in a house surrounded by some old fruit and palm trees and flowering plants. At a distance of about ten metres from the house, the gardens for that year were standing. The maize was at knee height, the manioc needed a few more months to grow and the jute and malva were already at chest height. It was November, the middle of the dry season, and people's moods in general were good. The couple, S. Solano and D. Adalgesa, were salting fish, while their children were intermittently helping out and playing games. After a while the man asked one of his children to fetch us all some coffee. When they had scuttled off, he proceeded to tell me that he and his wife are the heads of the house and this means they are responsible for making everyday decisions. He said that `our work makes things grow', and `in our house, we plant and reap jute and malva and sell fish, so that we can bring up our children'. In these phrases S. Solano was directly linking the material continuation of the house, its people and things, with the work people do. Thus for this Parúaro man, it is not possible to separate raising children from the work that is carried out in and around the house. This point is highly significant, because S. Solano was coupling production with reproduction, to the extent that kinship is developed in and through livelihoods. In this sense, work is a root metaphor for social life, whether it is catching fish and preparing it to be eaten or growing plants or raising children. What all these processes have in common is transformation and creation: raising children to be responsible adults, growing seeds from plants or catching fish in the river and preparing them as food to eat.

links production and reproduction

2. `We are all kin here'

I had spent my first night in Paru. I woke up to a host sounds and movements that would become very familiar. I was offered a glass of sweet coffee and took it to the front of the house to look at the early morning activities taking place around me. The male head of the house came up next to me and saw me turning my head in from one scene to another. He must have thought that I was trying to make sense of it all, because his first words to me were `here on our Parú we are all relatives' emphasising his point with a wave of his hand up and down the lines of houses, that.

Raises issues of the moral dimensions kinship.

3. Spreading blood in marriage

Alcina was talking about her parents. She explained that her father's family `do not spread their blood, they marry a cousin and do not like to change their names from one generation to another.' She went on to say that the family of my mother mixed with other families to make other families'.

Kinship as strategy: keeping resources within the family through close marriage and creating other families to hold onto rsources within the community.

4. A few days before ending fieldwork, I was lying in my hammock talking with one couple who had proved to be highly hospitable and good friends. We were reflecting on my time on Parú and especially thinking about how I had learnt certain skills. Even though I thought I had got to be fairly good at paddling a canoe they remained unconvinced that I did it as well as a young boy. The man went on to say that I had nevertheless learnt a lot, aprendeu muitou, on Parú. From his point of view, before I had came to Parú I could not paddle, I had never eaten grilled fish on a beach, or hunted for capybara, or swum in the river, or done a whole catalogue of performative actions. The point however, from his perspective, was not that I had never done any of these things in the past, but I had never done them on Parú, with Parúaros and learnt how to do these actions with them. What's more I had not done those things in the way that they do them, such as paddle, or cook food, or fish, or swim. In other words, no matter how good I had been at swimming or cooking in my previous life, this did not count, I had to learn from a local and on Parú

Integration within the community is associated with residence and active participation. This creates active relations in the present.

Kinship is continued on the next page