World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0002604638
Reproduction Date:

Title: Avunculate  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Marriage, Darwinian anthropology, Anthropology, Living arrangements, Turkic peoples
Collection: Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Living Arrangements, Marriage, Sociobiology, Turkic Peoples
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The avunculate, sometimes called avunculism or avuncularism, is a feature of some societies whereby men have a special role in relation to their sisters' children.


  • Definition 1
  • Avunculocal societies 2
  • Unrelated meaning 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6


The term avunculate comes from the Latin kinship term avunculus ("mother's brother", in opposition to the brother of the father). In societies where maternal filiation is strongly represented, the role of a father could be taken over by a maternal uncle, who becomes a "social father" of his sister's children and becomes a father figure to his nephews and/or nieces.

The 1989 Oxford English Dictionary defines "avunculate" as follows:

"Avunculate. The special relationship existing in some societies between a maternal uncle and his sister's son; maternal uncles regarded as a collective body.
1920 R. H. LOWIE Prim. Soc. v. 81 Ethnologists describe under the heading of avunculate the customs regulating in an altogether special way the relations of a nephew to his maternal uncle. Ibid. vii. 171 The Omaha are patrilineal now, but their having the avunculate proves that they once traced descent through the mother, for on no other hypothesis can such a usage be explained. .. " [1]

At avunculate time the maternal family is already headed by a man, a father or a brother of the woman given into another's family or clan. The matrilocal spousal residence is replaced with patrilocal one, the man does not move any more into the house of his wife, but just the opposite, in marriage he takes her into his house. At the same time a wife and her children retain their affiliation with the former maternal family and clan. In such system the factual father of the child, instead of the blood father, is the uncle on the maternal side. And while a mother remains in the husband's house, her children (sons) "return home". The blood father and his relatives are obligated to turn the child over to his uncle, "return" him to his family. M.O.Kosven called this order "return of the children". The nephews are all-powerful and have exclusive privileges in the family of the uncle on the maternal side.[2]

Relics of avunculate custom are known at present. According to the Kazakh common law, the avunculate nephews could take anything from the relatives of the mother up to three times. In the Kyrgyz past a nephew, at a feast at his maternal uncle or grandfather, could take any horse from their herd or any delicacy.[2]

In the Southwest United States, the Apache tribe practices a form of this, where the uncle is responsible for teaching the children social values and proper behavior while inheritance and ancestry is reckoned through the mother's family alone. Modern day influences have somewhat but not completely erased this tradition.

Avunculocal societies

An avunculocal society is one in which a married couple traditionally lives with the man's mother's eldest brother, which most often occurs in matrilineal societies. The anthropological term "avunculocal residence" refers to this convention, which has been identified in about 4% of the world's societies.[3]

This pattern generally occurs when a man obtains his status, his job role, or his privileges from their nearest elder matrilineal male relative. When a woman's son lives near her brother, he is able to more easily learn how he needs to behave in the matrilineal role he has inherited.

The Chamorros of the Mariana Islands[4] and the Taíno of Turks and Caicos Islands[5] are examples of societies that have practiced avunculocal residence.

Unrelated meaning

In historical (not anthropological) terminology, an "avunculate marriage" is the marriage of a man with the daughter of his sister (not explicitly forbidden by the listings in Leviticus 18). In most cultures with avunculate customs in the sense used by anthropologists, such a marriage would violate incest taboos governing relations between members of the same matrilineal lineage.


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. Second Edition 1989. On-line version.
  2. ^ a b Yu.Zuev, "Early Türks: Sketches of history and ideology", Almaty, Daik-Press, 2002, p. 30,
  3. ^ Rosman, Abraham and Rubel, Paula G. The Tapestry of Culture: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Mcgraw-Hill College, 1995. (ISBN 0-07-053955-3)
  4. ^ Cunningham, Lawarence J. Ancient Chamorro Society. Bess Press, 1992. (ISBN 1-880188-05-8)
  5. ^ Keegan, William F. Before Columbus: Caonabo’s Homeland, Middle Caicos Earthwatch Report, 1999.


  • Kosven, M. O. (1948). "Avunkulat [The Avunculate]". Sovietskaya Etnografiya 1: 3–46. 

Further reading

  • Barnard, Alan (2010). "Avunculate". In Alan Barnard and Jonathan Spencer. Routledge Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology (2nd ed.). London and New York: Routledge. p. 78. 
  • . Collected Works Available from the Internet Archive. Reprinted in his  
  • Beekes, R. S. P. (1976). "Uncle and Nephew".  
  • Bell, Clair Hayden (1922). The Sister's Son in the Medieval German Epic. Publications in Modern Philology 10.2. Berkeley, CA. 
  • Bloch, Maurice, and Dan Sperber (2002). "Kinship and Evolved Psychological Dispositions: The Mother's Brother Controversy Reconsidered". Current Anthropology 43 (5): 723–48.   Preliminary draft of article (PDF) available here.
  • Bremmer, J. N. (1976). "Avunculate and Fosterage" (PDF). Journal of Indo-European Studies 4 (1): 65–78. 
  • Bremmer, J. N. (1983). "The Importance of the Maternal Uncle and Grandfather in Archaic and Classical Greece and Early Byzantium". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 50: 173–86. 
  • Bremmer, J. N. (1999). "Fosterage, Kinship and the Circulation of Children in Ancient Greece". Dialogos: Hellenic Studies Review 6: 1–20. 
  • Bremmer, R. H. (1980). "The Importance of Kinship. Uncle and Nephew in Beowulf". Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 15: 21–38. 
  • Farnsworth, W. O. (1913). Uncle and Nephew in the Old French Chansons de Geste: A Study in the Survival of Matriarchy. New York. 
  • Fox, Robin (1967). Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Jaski, B. (1999). "Cú Chulainn, gormac and dalta of the Ulstermen".  
  • Needham, R. (1962). Structure and Sentiment: A Test Case in Social Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  • Ó Cathasaigh, T. (1986). "The Sister's Son in Early Irish Literature".  
  • Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1952) [1924]. Structure and Function in Primitive Society. London. 
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.