Eskimo kinship (also referred to as Lineal kinship) is a concept of kinship used to define family in anthropology. Identified by Lewis Henry Morgan in his 1871 work Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, the Eskimo system was one of six major kinship systems (Eskimo, Hawaiian, Iroquois, Crow, Omaha, and Sudanese). Morgan's system of classification is considered obsolete in current mainstream anthropology.

Kinship system[]

The Eskimo system places no distinction between patrilineal and matrilineal relatives, instead focusing on differences in kinship distance (the closer the relative is, the more distinguished). The system also emphasizes the nuclear family, identifying directly only the mother, father, brother, and sister (lineal relatives). All other relatives are grouped together into categories. It uses both classificatory and descriptive terms, differentiating between gender, generation, lineal relatives (relatives in the direct line of descent), and collateral relatives (blood relatives not in the direct line of descent).

Parental siblings are distinguished only by their sex (Aunt, Uncle). All children of these individuals are lumped together regardless of sex (Cousins). Unlike the Hawaiian system, Ego's parents are clearly distinguished from their siblings.

Graphic of the Eskimo kinship system


The Eskimo system is comparatively rare among the world's kinship systems and is at present used in most Western societies (such as those of modern-day Europe or North America). A small number of food-foraging peoples also use it (such as the !Kung tribe of Africa).

The system is largely used in bilineal societies where the dominant relatives are the immediate family. In most Western societies, the nuclear family represents an independent social and economic group, further emphasizing the immediate kinship. The tendency in Western societies to live apart and interact with extended family only on a ceremonial basis also reinforces this.


Eskimo is the accepted term used by Alaska Natives today. Iñupiaq speakers (Iñupiat) are in the Arctic region of northern and northwestern Alaska. Yup'ik speakers (Yup'iit) are in the western and southwestern, sub-Arctic portion of Alaska.

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