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Anthropology: Kinship in Kyrgyzstan Essay

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Updated: Jun 14th, 2021

In the contemporary world, kinship systems are getting more complex than the one presented by Schneider. I interviewed a student from Kyrgyzstan and found out that the kinship system in his country while having certain similarities, is very different in some aspects. The collected data is consistent with Schneider’s definition of marriage but is a little different from Schneider’s account of who can be considered a relative. Relatedness is a broader notion in Kyrgyzstan than in the United States. There are also differences in solidarity because financial help to family members is considered to be an ordinary practice.

In Europe and the United States, gay marriages are becoming more common, contradicting Schneider’s notion of family. In Kyrgyzstan, however, people are more conservative, and a family must consist of a husband and a wife (Case 1). However, the family is not only limited to the couple and their children. The husband’s parents are also members of the same household (Case 1). Their son will marry, and his wife becomes a member of the family, whereas daughters, upon marriage, become members of their husbands’ families.

Denis’ relation to his grandparents is also different than in traditional American culture. While Schneider’s model does not distinguish between a father’s and a mother’s parents (1968), Denis calls his father’s father chon-ata, the father’s mother chon-ene, the mother’s father tai-ata, and the mother’s mother tai-ene (Case 2). The difference is not only symbolic but also in the relations – grandparents from fathers’ side are generally closer since they all live in the same household.

Sibling relations also have their own intricacies in how they call each other (Case 3). The same is true for uncles, aunts, and cousins since Denis calls them differently depending on whether they are from his mother’s or father’s side. The symbols are sophisticated, but they have undergone many simplifications since the early days of Kyrgyz history. For instance, today, Denis may call his uncles and aunts aga (brother) and eje (sister). The interesting thing is that Denis calls the eldest brother of his father chon-ata (grandfather). Kinship in Schneider’s model includes friendliness, reunions, sociability, and rites of passage, but does not generally include financial aid or service. In contrast, Denis’ family does not hesitate to help each other via financial or service means (Case 4).

It is generally a bad practice to marry anyone who sits on a kinship chart, according to Denis (Case 4). The notion of relatedness is pervasive in Kyrgyzstan; that is why marriage happens between two people who are not related at all (Case 4). This broad definition of relatedness can be put in contrast with Schneider’s model, where there is a specific definition of it, which includes the necessity of blood relation (Schneider 1968). It is a common belief that any genetic similarities between the husband and the wife can inflict harm on future generations of the family.

Conversation with Denis introduced a whole new kinship system to me, which has similarities with the American one but has its complexities and sophistication. The notion of family is the same as in Schneider’s model and has not changed, unlike in some subcultures in the United States. The idea of relatedness is not specific in Kyrgyzstan, as Denis said, “Any man can be a relative.” There are major symbolic differences, and the system is more complicated in Kyrgyzstan than in the United States because the people with the same degree of relatedness can be called differently.

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1. IvyPanda. "Anthropology: Kinship in Kyrgyzstan." June 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/anthropology-kinship-in-kyrgyzstan/.


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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Anthropology: Kinship in Kyrgyzstan'. 14 June.

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