Family relationships are the foundation of all societies in the
world. Every group has names for types of family
relationship. These relationships and their names are called the ‘kinship system’ or more often 'terminological system' of a group.
Traditionally, in Indigenous Australia, family members lived together, worked together and relied on each other throughout their lives. People remained strongly connected with their families. These connections were strengthened by traditions of land ownership, religion and ceremony, which linked families to countries and languages. Today, many Indigenous people continue to keep these strong connections between family, country and ceremony.
Groups vary enormously as to how many kin relationships they give names to, as to what relationships have names, and as to how these kinship systems fit into the way the group lives. So there are many different kinship systems around the world. Australia is no exception. There is no one single Australian kinship system.
Each of the several hundred languages has a different set of names for family relationships, and the family relationships that they give names to may vary from group to group.
Aboriginal kinship systems are different from English kinship systems in several important ways. Aboriginal people have lots of mothers, lots of fathers, lots of sisters and brothers. Everyone with whom you interact for a long time is included in the kinship system. We explain below in more detail how this works.
The relation between people born to the same parents is important in
all societies. English speakers use ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ to describe
it. Some people use ‘sibling’ if they don’t want to specify the gender
of the person. In Australia, there are different ways of
describing this relation. For example, here are the terms for people
born of the same parents used by two neighbouring groups in Central
Australia, Warumungu and Gurindji.