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Impearls: HIC 8.1.4: Plan of society

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Plan of society   by A. L. Kroeber

The following account of Hupa society also applies to all the northwestern tribes.

A typical family consisted of the man and his sons, the wife or wives of the man, the unmarried or half-married daughters, the wives of the sons, and the grandchildren.  To these may be added unmarried or widowed brothers or sisters of the man and his wife.  The women of the first generation are called by the same term of relationship by the third generation whether they are great-aunts or grandmothers.  So, too, the old men of the family were all called grandfathers.  All the children born in the same house called each other brothers and sisters, whether they were children of the same parents or not.

The ultimate basis of this life is obviously blood kinship, but the immediately controlling factor is the association of common residence; in a word, the house.

Continuing, with omissions:

The next unit above the family was the village.  These varied greatly in size.  Where a man was born there he died and was buried.  On the other hand, the women went to other villages when they married and usually remained there all their lives.  The inhabitants of a village were related to each other, for the most part, on the side of the males.  They had other relatives scattered through different villages where their daughters and sisters had married.

Each village had a headman who was richest there.  Besides riches he had hunting and fishing rights, and certain lands where his women might gather acorns and seeds.  The men of the village obeyed him because from him they received food in time of scarcity.  If they were involved in trouble they looked to him to settle the dispute with money.  As long as they obeyed whatever he had was theirs in time of need.  His power descended to his son at his death if his property also so descended.

The villages south of and including Medilding were associated in matters of religion.  There was no organization or council.  The richest man was the leader in matters of the dances, and in war, if the division were at war as a unit.  All to the north of Medilding constituted another division.  The headman of the northern division because of his great wealth was the headman for the whole lower Trinity River.  He was the leader when the tribe, as a tribe, made war.  This power was the result of his wealth and passed with the dissipation of his property.  He was the leader because he could, with his wealth, terminate hostilities by settling for all those killed by his warriors.  There seem to have been no formalities in the government of the village or tribe.  Formal councils were unknown, although the chief often took the advice of his men in a collected body.

There are here male ownership, patrilinear descent, and well-defined laws.  There is no trace of exogamous clans, of hereditary power as a part of society, of political machinery.  The stage seems all set for these institutions.  A slight increment and we can imagine them developing to luxuriance.  But the growth would have involved a total change in outlook — the sort of change that comes slowly and which affects at once the subtlest and deepest values of a culture.



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