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Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture – T41


The Relationship System of the
Vandau 11

The system of relationship terms of the Vandau of Portuguese South-east
Africa is founded on the following principles:

1. Within the family position is determined in such a way that all
those counted as members of one generation take precedence over those
of the following generation.

2. In the family consisting of parents and children both parents have
equal position, and siblings of both sexes also have equal position.

3. When a girl marries her position in reference to her brother is
lowered by one step so that she counts as a member of the next lower
generation. For convenience's sake these steps in position may be designated
by the term generation.

4. When referring to collateral relatives the rank of the speaker is
determined by the relation of the intermediate relative to the person
referred to; for instance, in talking to a mother's brother his position is
determined by the relation of the mother to her brother.

5. Siblings of the same sex, and children of the same sex of siblings of
the same sex are designated by the same terms.

6. For a man parents and brothers of his wife, and the wife of his
son-in-law (these terms understood in Vandau sense) occupy an exceptional
position; for the woman the parents, grandfathers, and sisters of
the parents of her husband, excepting however the sisters of his father;
for both man and woman the daughter-in-law occupies an exceptionally
high position.

In the following the numbers in parentheses added to the names refer
to the schematic genealogies; number without a prime to the man's
genealogy (A), those with a prime to a woman's genealogy (B). The
individuals are so arranged that, as far as possible, all those relatives who
are designated by the same term are placed together. Instead of placing
individuals according to their biological position they are placed according
to their social position.384

The principal difficulty for a clear understanding of this system lies
in the correct appreciation of the relations between brother and sister.
When she marries her brother controls her choice and according to the
third principle she loses one step. Her children are, therefore, two steps
under her brother and equal in position to his grandchildren. Therefore
they are also called by the same term that is used for the man's grandchildren.
In the same way a man's father's sister loses one step when
she marries and becomes equal to the speaker's sister and as his sister
she loses another step compared to him on account of her marriage, so
that she drops to the same position as the speaker's children. In other
words, all the women, as “sisters” of all the men in the successive ascendant
male generations are in a lower position. In Fig. 1 are represented


Fig. 1. Relationship system of the Vandau; terms used by man.

the relations between the male speaker A, his sister (5) and her
children (12); his paternal aunt (5) and her children (12), and so on
in ascending generations. For the sake of clarity the biological generations
are indicated by circles. They are not valid from a Vandau point
of view.

On the other hand the brother of a married woman (B fig. 2) is one
step above his sister. Therefore his children are equal in position to that
of the woman speaking. Since the son of her brother is her “brother” he
385also moves one step up when the woman speaking marries and his
daughters are “sisters” of the speaker, his sons “brothers” who again
move up one step. Thus all the male descendants of a man in the male
line are “brothers” of his sister. In fig. 2 this is indicated by the recurving
line which brings back the son of 6′ to the same point.

As a result of this the mother's brother (1) who is one step above the
mother, his son and their sons and son's sons throughout all the descending


Fig. 2. Relationship system of the Vandau; terms used by woman.

generation are in the position of the mother's father and are called
“grandfather”. In the same way the “sister's” child, no matter whether
this is the own sister, the father's or grandfather's sister will be two steps
below the male speaker and is called “grandchild” (12).

Following is a list of the terms in use 12:

(1) tʼetʼegulu pl. vatʼetʼegulu, madjitʼetʼegulu, vadjitʼetʼegulu

(2) mbiya pl. madjimbiya, vadjimbiya

(3) baba pl. vababa, madjibaba, vadjibaba

(4) ma.i pl. vama.i, madjima.i, vadjima.i

(5) tʼetʼadii pl. madjitʼetʼadji, vadjitʼetʼadji386

(6a) nyevanši 13 pl. madjinyevanši, vadjinyevanši

(6b) munukʼuna pl. vanukʼuna, vadjinukʼuna

(7) mukʼadji pl. vakʼadji

(8) mulume pl. valume, vadjilume

(9) mʏana pl. vana, mazana, madjivana (the last two having a
slightly discourteous meaning)

(10) mukwambo pl. vakwambo, madjikwambo (the latter, impolite)

(11) nyamʏana 14 pl. vanyamʏana, madjinyamʏana, vadjinyamʏana

(12) muzukʼulu pl. vazukʼulu, madjizukʼulu (the latter, impolite)

(13) mʏalamu pl. vamʏalamu, madjimʏalamu, vadjimʏalamu

(14) mulovozi pl. valovozi; also vamulovozi, madjilovozi

(15a) vatšano 25 pl. vatšano, madjitšano

(15b) mpʻele pl. mpʻele, madjimpʻele

(16) vatʼeżala 26 pl. vatʼezala, madjitʼezala, vadjitʼezala

(17) vambiya 27 pl. vambiya, madjimbiya, vadjimbiya

(18) nyeṡala 18 pl. vanyeṡala, madjinyeṡala, vadjinyeṡala

(19) vażele 29 pl. vażele, madjinżele, vadjiżele

(20) mʏanavene pl. vanavene,madjimʏanavene, vadjimʏanavene

(21) vapʻoŋgozi pl. vapʻoŋgozi, vamupʻoŋgozi, madjipʻoŋgozi, vadjipʻoŋgozi

To avoid confusion I use in the following only singular forms:

(1) tʼetʼegulu or tšegulu (great father; the Bantu stem tʼa “father”
is not used in Chindau); paternal and maternal grandfather. Since
my (man's) mother (4) after her marriage is one step below her brother
(1a), her brother, i.e. my maternal uncle (1a) is also two steps above
myself, therefore, my tʼetʼegulu and so on through the whole series of
ascending generations. This does not occur on the paternal side, because
the father and his brother are on the same level. Since my wife calls her
grandfathers (1′) and her mother's brother (1′a) tʼetʼegulu I use the
same term. This is different for the woman in relation to her husband's
grandfathers and mother's brother. (See under 16.)

(2) mbiya; paternal and maternal grandmother. Since the mother's
brother (1) is called tʼetʼegulu his wife is called mbiya. Man and woman
call all the women whom their mate calls mbiya by the same term.

(3) baba; father (3) and all his brothers (3a), also the sons of the
brothers of the paternal grandfather; husbands of the mother's sisters
(3b) and of all those called ma.i (see no. 4). The father's elder brother
is also called baba mukʼulu (great father), the father's younger brother
baba mdokʼo (little father).

(4) ma.i mother (4) and her sisters (4a); the daughters of the sisters
387of the maternal grandmother. Since the mother's brother is a step
higher than the mother, and since she calls her brother's daughter
tʼetʼadji (no. 5) the latter is, also called ma.i. The wives of all the men
called baba (3) are also ma.i. In other words, the wives of all the baba
and the tʼetʼadji of the mother are called ma.i. The mother's elder sister
is also called ma.i mukʼulu (great mother), the mother's younger sister
ma.i mdokʼo (little mother).

(5) tʼetʼadji (Bantu tʼa father, ʏali female). Sisters without regard
of relative age. Since the father's sister (5a) on marrying moves one
step down she is on the same level as my (a man's) sister (5) who also
moves down one step when she marries. Therefore both are on the same
level as my own children and I call them tʼetʼadji and my own children,
both boys and girls, call them by the same term. Conversely: since the
woman on marrying moves down one step in relation to her brother, her
brother's (6′) daughter (5′) and she herself are on the same level, that
is she is her tʼetʼadji, which, therefore signifies,

for the man: sister (5), father's sister (5a), father's father's sister
(5b), etc.

for the woman besides these: brother's daughter (5′b).

(6) nyevanši; elder brothter (6a); munukʼuna younger brother
(6b); also, elder viz. younger son of father's brother, or mother's sister.
Age is determined by the age of the speaker, not by that of his parents.
The woman calls all her brothers and her father's brother's sons nyevanši
(6′). Since after marriage she moves one step down in relation to her
brother, his son (6′a) is also her nyevanši and so on through all generations.
Therefore nyevanši signifies

for the man: elder brother (6a).

for the woman: brother (6′), brother's son (6′), brother's son's
son, etc.

munukʼuna younger brother (6b) is a term used only by men.

(7) mukʼadji wife.

(8) mulume husband.

(9) mʏana own children and those of the nyevanši and munukʼuna
of the man; and for a woman those of the tʼetʼadji. Therefore the term

for the man: child, brother's child, child of wife's sister, child of
sister of wife's father, child of daughter of wife's brother.

for the woman: child, sister's child, child of husband's brother,
child of father's sister, child of brother's daughter.388

(10) mukwambo a man married to a woman of the next lower level,

for the man: husbands of all tʼetʼadji (5), or mʏana (9).

for the woman: husbands of mʏana (9′) and mʏanavene (20′),
i.e., the husband's sister who is one step below her brother (6').
A contradiction is involved in this in so far as the mʏanavene
is at the same time a person to be treated with respect (see
sixth principle).

Instead of mukwambo the term mʏalamu (13) may be used.

(11) nyamʏana (= head child); wife of the mʏana; for the woman
besides this the brother's wife. The man may also use this term for the
wife of his muzukʼulu (12) whom he ordinarily calls vambiya (17).

(12) muzukʼulu (= great muzu); for both, man and woman, child
of the mʏana (9).

For the man also children of his tʼetʼadji (5); also husband of the

For the woman also the children of the tʼetʼadji of her husband, because
she herself in her marriage has been placed on her husband's
level. Also the husband or the wife of the muzukʼulu.
The wife of the muzukʼulu is called by the man vambiya (17).

(13) mʏalamu

For the man, all his wife's tʼetʼadji, including the daughter of his
wife's brother, the sisters of his wife's father, and the wives
of his nyevanši (6) and munukʼuna (6b).

For the woman, all the nyevanši and munukʼuna of her husband,
and the husbands of her own tʼetʼadji.

The term mʏalamu may also be used in place of mukwambo (10) although
the relation of the speaker to the mukwambo is quite different
from that to his mʏalamu. The term mʏalamu may also be used instead
of vażele (19).

(14) mulovozi husband of wife's tʼetʼadji; perhaps better; husband
of a mʏalamu (13) who is wife's tʼetʼadji (5). Used only by men.

(15′) vatšano (15′a) and mpʻele (15′b); wife of husband's elder
brother (15′a), viz. of his younger brother (15′b); also wives of the
mʏalamu who are her husband's nyevanši or munukʼuna. Used only by

(16) vatʼezala husband's viz. wife's father and their “brothers.” For
the woman also husband's grandfathers. The term vatʼeżala or vażele
is also used for the father of the nyamʏana (11), although he is usually
called mupʻoŋgozi (21).389

(17) vambiya (= honorable grandmother); wife's mother, wife's
brother's wife; for the man also the wife of the muzukʼulu (12) (who,
however is called muzukʼulu by the woman). The term may also be
used for the mother of the nyamʏana (11) instead of the usual mupʻoŋgozi
(21). A man may also use the term vambiya for his nyamʏana.mupʻoŋgozi
The woman never uses the term vambiya for the women of her husband's
family or of those of her children. She employs it only for the
vambiya of her brother whose terms of address or reference she adopts.

(18) nyeṡala (= head ṡala) husband's mother.

(19) vażele wife's brother. Since the wife's brother's son is her
nyevanši, his son, his son's son, etc., are also vażele.

(20′) mʏanavene, husband's tʼetʼadji.

(21) mupʻoŋgozi reciprocal term used by parents of a married
couple. It is most commonly used by women.

The reciprocal terms used by relatives are accordingly as follows:

tʼetʼegulu (1) | mbiya (2) | muzukʼulu (12)
baba (3) | ma.i (4) | mʏana (9)
nyevanši (6a) | munukʼuna (6b) | tʼetʼadji (5)
mulume (8) | mukʼadji (7)
vażele (19) | vatʼeżala (16) | vambiya (17) | mukwambo (10)
vatʼeżala (16) | mʏanavene (20) | nyeṡala (18) | nyamʏana (11)
vatšano (15′a) | mpʻele (15′b)

Reciprocal terms are:

mʏalamu (13)
mulovozi (14)
mupʻoŋgozi (21)

and for women tʼetʼadji.

The schematic drawings, Figures 1 and 2, represent these conditions.
Broken lines indicate marriages, straight lines descent. When the son of
390a person is designated the same way as his father, this is indicated by a
returning loop in which a circle on the level of the generation indicates
the passage through that generation. Thus the son of the tʼetʼegulu (1)
on his mother's side is also tʼetʼegulu (1a, b). Also when a woman of
one generation is designated in the same way as a woman of the following
descending generation, the line of descent is carried on to that generation
and the passage through the biological generation is indicated
by a circle. In Figure 1, A is speaking, in Figure 2, B. The rectangles
enclosing certain groups of individuals indicate that the same conditions
of marriage prevail for all of them. The rank is also expressed in the
mutual use of forms of address. Persons who are respected belonging to
a higher rank are addressed by “you” (imʏimʏi), and with the prefix
of respect va preceding the name. Conversely all those of lower rank are
called “thou” (iwewe).

The man calls “thou” | The woman calls “thou”
his wife and all the mʏalamu
his sisters | her brothers
his father's sisters, except those older than the speaker | her father's sisters, except when they are older than the speaker
his younger brothers | her younger sisters
her brothers' wives
the wives of her husband's younger brothers
his children | her children
his muzukʼulu, except when they are older than the speaker | her muzukʼulu, except those older than the speaker

The man calls “you” | The woman calls “you”
his grandparents | her grandparents
his parents | her parents
his older brothers | her older sisters and her father's sisters in case they are older than the speaker
his sisters' husbands
his wife's brothers | her husband's sisters
her husband
her mʏalamu
the wife of her husband's elder brother, except when she is younger than the speaker
his mukwambo | her mukwambo
his parents-in-law | her parents-in-law
his daughter-in-law
the wife of his muzukʼulu

The mupʻoŋgozi call one another “you.” Comparing this with the
schematic presentation, it will be seen that the individuals corresponding
to the first six terms on the right use the term “you” speaking to all
those on the left. The next group (Nos. 16, 17, 19) and the mukwambo
(10) call one another “you”, also the mupʻoŋgozi (21) among themselves.
Among the women the mʏanavene (20) and the younger nyamʏana
(11) use “thou,” while the nyeṡala (18), vateżala (16), and
nyamʏana (11) use “you.” The male mʏalamu (13) calls the female
“thou.” The female calls the male mʏalamu (13) “you.” The distinction
between elder and younger brothers and elder and younger
sisters is carried through more strictly in so far as the elder ones call the
younger ones “thou”, the younger ones the elder ones “you”.

The mutual behavior of relatives is strictly regulated. In certain
groups a joking relationship is permitted. I have indicated this by
black circles for all those who are allowed to joke. With others there is
a respect relationship which is extreme for the vambiya, mother-in-law,
for whom avoidance (kʼupfava) is prescribed. I have indicated the
groups which are in a respect relationship by hachure. For others there
is no prescribed behavior. It depends upon personal relations in how
far joking is permitted. There is a certain degree of constraint between
brothers and sisters, and between children and parents. Children are
instructed in sexual matters by their grandparents.

Respect is also expressed in another manner. It is considered improper
to accept anything from an older person with one hand, particularly
with the left hand. It must be accepted with both hands cupped
and held together. If this should be impossible, the one hand, either
left or right, must grasp the wrist of the receiving hand.

Young men in the presence of older persons must sit with knees drawn
up and feet crossed. They are not permitted to squat so that the heels
stand up on the side of the thighs. Women may squat but the feet must
be placed to one side. It is improper to sit with legs stretched out in the
presence of older people.

Older people are given a mat to sit on.

Before the meal the older people wash their hands first and begin, the
younger ones follow. The younger ones are not allowed to stop until the
older people have stopped eating.

It is improper to smack one's lips while eating, particularly in the
presence of older persons.

Young people should not contradict older ones in a loud voice.392

When a man has to talk to his mother-in-law he has to clap his hands
while speaking, the hands being cupped. He must also clap his hands
when his mother-in-law is speaking. In the presence of his mother-in-law
he must sit with closed fists, thumbs bent under, and knuckles upward.
To stretch out the thumbs is considered a serious insult.

When a son-in-law wishes to enter the house of his mother-in-law he
claps his hands to announce his arrival. The same is done with strangers
before entering the house. People well known to the visitors knock at the
door. When a man meets a respected woman — seldom one of his own
family — he stands still and claps his hands. She bends her knees and
crosses her arms over her breast. When meeting his mother-in-law a
man bends his knees and claps hands. The mother-in-law also kneels
and bends forward. Then the man steps aside and allows his mother-in-law
to pass. She walks on the opposite side of the road in order to avoid

When two relatives or neighbors meet, men or women, they clap the
right hand on the left side of the chest and cup their hands. People who
do not know each other pass without greeting.

A person meeting the chief claps his hands about eight times and then
stops with two short clappings with long pauses.

A visitor who happens to come in at mealtime is invited to share. It
is customary not to accept such an invitation too often.

The children are counted as members of the father's family. The
tribe is divided in septs (mutʼupʼo), every one of which has a certain
taboo. The septs are divided in sibs (bvumbo), which are named according
to the part of the country they inhabit. Marriages within the
sib are strictly forbidden, also those among maternal relatives, so far as
they are known. Therefore the whole group of consanguineous relatives
may not marry among themselves. Among those related by affinity the
man can never marry a vambiya or a nyamʏana, the women no mukwambo
or vatʼeżala. Among the “grandmothers” and “grandchildren”
(that is, mbiya and muzukʼulu) there are a whole series who are not
consanguineous, also among “fathers” (baba) and “mothers” (ma.i).
A man may marry his ma.i who is not consanguineous with him. The
informant is not certain whether this is an old custom or due to Zulu
influence. At present such marriages are not approved of but not forbidden.
In past generations a man married his father's widows, except his
own mother, or the widows of his own brothers because he inherited
them. Therefore a man may marry his ma.i, but the woman can never
393marry her baba. Conversely a woman may marry her mʏana, but a
man can never marry his mʏana. Also a man can never marry his
muzukʼulu, and a woman cannot marry her tʼetʼegulu. In other words
the man marries only into his own or higher steps, the woman her own
or lower steps. When attempting to explain the marriage regulations
my informant first of all refers to a disinclination to certain types of
marriages. Discussing the matter further it occurs to him that all the
tʼetʼegulu and muzukʼulu are consanguineous and are therefore forbidden
to marry. When his attention is called to it that this does not hold
good for the baba and ma.i he discusses economic conditions. Marriage
is arranged on the basis of a payment made by the man's family to the
wife's family which is represented by her brother who conducts the
negotiations. Through the marriage the woman becomes part of her
husband's family, so that after her husband's death she is taken over by
other men of her husband's family. On the other hand the man has on
account of the payment claim for her replacement in case she should
die, but only from her own rank, that is to say, among the tʼetʼadji of his
wife. According to this the widow would be first of all inherited by the
mʏalamu. Here, however, is a contradiction in so far as the muzukʼulu
may claim her first.. In previous generations also his claim would have
preceded that of the son of the deceased and that of the mʏalamu. It
seems to me that this cannot be explained on a purely economic basis.
My informant explained it in the following manner: When a girl (2)
marries a boy (1), the payment is made to her brother (3). He uses it
in order to buy a wife (4) for himself. If he should die the payment that
the man (1) made for his wife (2) has gone to the family of the
woman (4) and therefore the man (1) claims the woman (4) for whom
the last payment was made, for himself. He himself may not marry her
because she is his vambiya, but his muzukʼulu has a claim to the widow.
Evidently this argument is not valid when the brother (3) of the widow
(2) marries first and it also does not explain why the son of the daughter
of (1) may claim the widow since a payment has been made for the
daughter. Evidently these economic considerations are of later origin
and do not explain the principle that the man must marry in the same or
higher rank group whenever relatives by affinity are concerned.

It may be that the customs of the Thonga 110 throw light on the situation.
Among them a widower can compel the brother of his deceased
394wife to divorce his wife and make her over to the widower. Then the
earlier marriage has to be dissolved ceremonially.

According to the present custom the man can only marry in his own
or in the second older rank group, the woman only in her own and the
second younger group. It might be suggested that this custom is related
to the position of the sister's daughters who so far as the man is concerned
are considered two steps under him, while the mother's brothers
are two steps above him. The relation between the man and his
mʏalamu (13) is simple. He can marry all of them, and he inherits them
after the death of his wife or his brothers. This is the ordinary levirate
which refers to all the tʼetʼadji of the woman, and of the wives of all the
nevanši and munukʼuna of the man.

The principal difference between the system of the Vandau and that
of the Zulu and the Thonga consists in the following: Among the latter
the mother's brother is one step higher than the mother but is not called
by the same term as the grandfather, but malume. His son is also
malume; his daughter, mame, among the Zulu; mamana (= mother)
among the Thonga. Among the Zulu, the father's sister is called babakazi,
among the Thonga, rarana. The former means “female father,”
as among the Vandau, the latter “little father”. Among the northern
Thonga the uncle is also called by the same term as the grandfather.

Among the Thonga we find one important feature, the younger
brother and the younger sister (?) move one step down. Only the wife
of the old brother is the namu (corresponding to mʏalamu) of the man.
The wife of the younger brother is mukoŋwana (corresponding to
nyamʏana). The grandson is called mupyana (phonetically corresponding
to a Vandau form muṡyana which, however, does not occur),
while the granddaughter is called ntukulu (corresponding to muzukʼulu).
In the north the grandson is also called ntukulu. It is not possible
to carry through the comparison in detail since Junod's description is not
sufficiently exhaustive.

The principal interest in the system of the Vandau lies in the fact
that we have here a clear case of the avunculate in a tribe of paternal
descent and that this system may be explained without difficulty based
on the ranking of the generations. I am far from maintaining that the
present explanation corresponds to the historical development of the
system but it seems interesting to see that psychologically and sociologically
considered the avunculate may develop without any trace of
maternal succession. Because the sister of the man when she marries is
395moved one step down and her husband is placed in equal position with
her, the woman's brother becomes the head of the family. Particularly
owing to the fact that he directs the negotiations of the marriage, his
position develops in such a way that he has control over his sister's children
and can interfere in all the family affairs of his sister.396

11 Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, vol. 54 (1922), pp. 41-51.

21 ż, are strongly labialized.

31 nye head.

4 Voir note 3.

52 va singular, expressing respect.

6 Voir note 5.

7 Voir note 5.

8 Voir note 3.

9 Voir note 5.

101 Henry A. Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (Neuchatel, 1913), vol. 1,
pp. 217 et seq.