One of the things we’re studying right now is genealogies and kinship systems. It may sound boring, but it’s actually quite fascinating to see how different cultures view their kin so vastly differently than we do. Virtually every culture uses one of six different kinship systems. The way a culture views/organizes their kin greatly affects not only their relationships with one another, but the way individuals interact with the rest of the world.

In the “Hawaiian” system, a person calls each blood relative of their parents’ generation “mother” or “father.” They call each blood relative in their own generation “brother” or “sister.” And these aren’t just arbitrary titles; they view family relationships vastly differently than we Americans do.

In one system (Crow), a person would call their father’s sister’s son, “father,” and would call their mother’s brother’s son, “son.” They would call their mother’s sister’s son, “brother.” Now, we Americans think of all three of those relationships as simply “cousin.” But, people using the Crow system have a very different type of relationship with each of those cousins. (And of course, if we were to explain to them the way most Westerners view kinships, they would think we’re crazy!)

So, why is it important that Jim and I be able to analyze kinship systems? I mentioned above that the kinship system a culture has affects their interactions with one another. It will be very helpful for Jim and I to understand the relationships in the village we enter so that we can understand some of the responsibilities, living patterns, etc. that go along with those relationships. And not so obvious at first glance  is the way that these systems affect the values and priorities of a culture – it’s huge.

Not only is understanding their kinship system helpful for learning how they do and view life, but it will be crucial as we teach Biblical truths. The Bible speaks repeatedly of our relationship with God in familial terms. It calls God our “Father.” It says Jesus is God’s “Son.” It says we are “children of God.” We are “co-heirs with Christ.”  We need to first understand what their concept of these relationships is so that we can correctly relay the rich Scriptural meaning behind these terms and phrases.

Fun stuff!


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