Two Crows Denies It: A History of Controversy in Omaha Sociology

By R. H. Barnes | Go to book overview

3: Descent Groups

Dorsey ( 1894, 407, 411) writes that Omaha descent groups are among those things that pertain to Wakońda, divinity. There are ten named Omaha clans, five in each moiety. The American authors call these descent groups gens, in keeping with a convention current in their times that labeled patrilineally organized groupings as gens, matrilineal ones as clans. Present usage applies clan to higher-order, named unilineal descent groups, regardless of whether the rule of membership is patrilineal or matrilineal. Since these terms are merely conventions, reference may be made to Omaha clans and subclans, rather than gens and subgens, without implying interpretive disagreements with the ethnographers.

There are of course issues of analysis and characterization that must be addressed. Adopting the classification of his superior at the Bureau of American Ethnology, Major J. W Powell, Dorsey ( 1884, 215) describes descent groups as consisting of "a number of consanguinei, claiming descent from a common ancestor, and having a common taboo or taboos." Elsewhere (p. 252) he identifies a variety of níkie kinship based on descent from the same or a similar mythical ancestor, which may obtain between two clans in different tribes. Dorsey's definition provoked a direct, albeit implicit, disclaimer by Fletcher and La Flesche ( 1911, 195).

The Omaha gens was not a political organization. It differed from the Latin gens in that the people composing it did not claim to be descended from a common ancestor from whom the group took its name and crest. . . . The

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Two Crows Denies It: A History of Controversy in Omaha Sociology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Chieftainship 29
  • 2: the Tribal Circle 50
  • 3: Descent Groups 68
  • 4: Personal Names 104
  • 5: Relationship Terminology 124
  • 6: Terminology and Marriage 155
  • 7: Marriage, Residence, and Kinship 176
  • 8: the Pattern of Marriage 186
  • 9: "Omaha Alliance" 194
  • 10: Dispersed Alliance 218
  • Ii: Conclusion 228
  • Notes 236
  • Bibliography 243
  • Subject Index 257
  • Name Index 266
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