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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Kinship Terms

Kinship Terms

Kinship is extended to persons connected by lineal descent and collateral relationship in both the mother's and the father's family, but genealogies are reckoned by patrilineal descent. In counting generations or tracing relationship, personal names are used. Kinship terminology is applied to contemporary relations with whom the individual is normally associated. This terminology classifies the two preceding and two succeeding generations in lineal descent and collateral relationship. Table 4 is arranged with the generation of the individual in the middle of the horizontal divisions, the first and second preceding generations above, and the first and second succeeding generations below.

Matua sa or matua tauaitu was given as the general term for the father's sister. Actually this term is applied only to the father's eldest sister, who has a particular relationship to her brothers' children and a magical power to curse her brothers and their children, which is reflected in the term tauaitu. The younger sisters of the father are potential matua sa, for if the eldest sister dies, the sister next in age assumes the position of matua sa and inherits the power to curse. The term ilamutu is given for all children of the father's sisters, but the children of the eldest daughter fulfill most of the ilamutu's obligations.

All ancestors of three generations or more before the individual are termed tupunga, not tupuna, the term for grandparent. All descendants of two generations or more after the individual are termed makupuna.

Uso, which in Samoa means sibling of the same sex as the speaker, is used in the Tokelau dialect with the same meaning, but is also used as a term embracing all one's closer collateral relatives, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Tausonga, which in Samoa means sibling of the opposite sex to the speaker, refers only to the distant relatives of one's kinship group, irrespective of generation. The meaning of “close” and “distant” in the terms uso and tausonga was neither substantiated nor denied by several informants and is perhaps a recent and secondary usage.

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Specific affinitive terms are lacking except the single term for one's mate, avanga. The sex of the person spoken of is obvious from the use of the word by the speaker. Other relationships by marriage are designated descriptively as: tamana taku avanga (the father of my husband or wife), avanga taku tama fafine (the husband of my daughter), matua taku avanga (the mother of my husband or wife).

A child is tama, and to designate sex, tane (boy) or fafine (girl) is added. Tamafine was heard in conversations and is probably a synonym for girl. Ataliki (son) and afafine (daughter) are common terms and were said by one informant to be used by both father and mother. This is contrary to Samoan usage, where only the father designates his children thus.

Foster children or brothers and sisters are designated by the same terms as blood relations with the addition of fai (made). Tamana fai is used to distinguish an adopted son from tama moni (true son) or taku tama (my son). Tamana moni distinguishes a true father from tamana, who may be a father or a father's brother.

Parallel cousins are distinguished as either brothers or sisters of the speaker. Parallel cousins of the opposite sex on the father's side of the family are classed as taina fetau taina and on the mother's side as tuafafine fetau taina.