Crow-Omaha Kinship Systems


Exemplary lineal equations in Crow-Omaha kin terminologies. In a Crow system, ego - male (?) or female (o) - calls females colored red by a single kinterm. Conversely, in an Omaha system, ego calls males colored blue by a single kinterm.

Out of Dr. Whiteley’s research on the relationship between matrilineal kinship, Hopi ritual sodalities, and the Orayvi Split grew an interest in two mirrored kinship systems of the "Crow-Omaha" type. Named for two of the Native nations among whom such systems were first described, Crow and Omaha kinship systems were first studied by anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan in 1859. The feature they share is the intergenerational "skewing" of kinship terms, whereby (Crow) one refers to females on the father’s side (an 'aunt,' a 'grandmother,' and a 'cross-cousin') by the same term; or conversely (Omaha) one refers to males on the mother’s side (a 'grandfather,' an 'uncle,' and a 'cross-cousin') by a similarly cross-generational single term (refer to the kinship tree to the left).

Such systems are uncommon but found all over the world, from Native North America and Amazonia to aboriginal Australia and Africa, as well as parts of Asia, Oceania, and classical Europe.

With AMNH colleague, Dr. Ward Wheeler (Curator, Invertebrate Zoology), Whiteley has built an analytical database from ethnographic data sources designed to compare global instances of Crow-Omaha kinship systems. This project uses phylogenetic modeling to develop hypotheses about the emergence and evolution of Crow-Omaha kinship systems globally.

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation Anthropology Program (Explaining Crow-Omaha Kinship Structures with Anthro-informatics-PI: Peter. M. Whiteley-BCS-0925978; co-PI: W.C.Wheeler). An international group of scholars was convened for an Advanced Seminar, "Transformative Kinship: Engaging the Crow-Omaha Transition," supported by the National Science Foundation (Workshop on Transitions in Human Social Organization-PI: Peter. M. Whiteley-BCS-0938505) and The Amerind Foundation.

Seminar proceedings have been published as Crow-Omaha: New Light on a Classic Problem of Kinship Analysis (Thomas R. Trautmann and Peter M. Whiteley, eds., University of Arizona Press, 2012). Whiteley has presented some of the results of this research in several venues, including the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle, 2016), and Australian National University Association on Linguistic Typology (Canberra, 2017, with Patrick McConvell).