Thoughts On Kinship Bonds

Kinship bonds run wide and deep in numerous cultures. In a global context, some maternal kinship bonds ensured that any child born was taken into the fold of the culture. East Asia also has its fair share of strong kinship bonds that have geneological attachments to the landscape (this is why Chinese would send the corpses of the deceased back to be buried in the village of origin).

Maintaining these kinship bonds is important if a particular ethnic or cultural group is surrounded by aggressors who want revenge for previous injustices. This is one of the origins of blood feuds, whereby Individual A finds out that Individual B’s great-great-great grandfather peed on Individual A’s great-great-great grandfather’s yard way back in the day. The blood feud results from Individual A taking up arms against Individual B — that A or B could not control or understood the momentary or long-term historical context(s) as to why their founding fathers commenced peeing on the other’s yard in the first place is largely irrelevant in a blood feud. Or, if it is relevant, the historical interpretation agrees with the actions of the individual in the present.

One way blood feuds have been resolved is through Danegeld, but even this is a form of bribery and extortion — it wasn’t as though the Vikings, after receiving Danegeld, would use the wealth they took to build local infrastructure and public works projects. Rudyard Kipling had some lucid thoughts on this.

Kinship bonds are also important if an ethnic or cultural group is surrounded by a dominant culture that inadvertently or discretely or legally or militarily or politically (or all of the above) seeks to wipe it out, as in the case with many Native American cultures. All of this rattled through my brain in one way or another after reading a December 20, 2011 piece in the New York Times by David Treuer entitled, “How Do You Prove You’re an Indian?” (For the record, Richard Rothaus — his blog found here — forwarded this article to me.)

Without rehashing what Treuer said, here, perhaps, is the understandable thrust of his argument. In his article, Treuer says:

…Things were different once. All tribes had their own ways of figuring out who was a member — usually based on language, residence and culture. In the case of the Ojibwe, it was a matter of choosing a side. Especially when we were at war in the early 19th century, with the Dakota — our neighbors (many of whom were our blood relatives) — who you were was largely a matter of whom you killed.

Treuer reflects the adage that we do not know who we are until we find out who we are not. He also suggestively seeks to undermine the perpetual silliness of Race and Racism, this a byproduct of bad science and chest-puffing ideas of natal origins expressed through uncontested and irrefutable ideology. Yet if we wipe this silliness away, cultures can survive and thrive, and they do so through a cultivation of the mind rather than passed on through “blood,” the latter of which runs as deep as we want to think it does. Nice article, Treuer.


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