The Denden kinship system


The ethnic Charyan people is divided into clans. This clan structure is most prevalent in the old Charyan heartland, i.e. the Nine cities(1), the plains east of the Xiy'khra and the plains north of Troi. All Charyans know to which clan they belong; however, the importance of the clan structure has been greatly diminished in the cities, and especially in the largest of the cities, Broi.

Members of a clan are supposed to help each other, offer hospitality and aid those clan-members in reduced circumstances. In the country, intra-clan marriage is strictly prohibited. In the cities however, this is no longer the case.


There is no concept of 'family' as a smaller unit within the clan, as there is, for instance in the Dumi kinship system (van Driem 1993: 11) (2); the next unit is the household, which can in the country comprise everybody on a particular farm and in the city everyone in a particular house. In the country, the village is another grouping within which marriage is prohibited.

The most numerous clan is the Soysha clan; others are Yambat, Pande, Penna and Ascens. A full list of all clan names has still not been compiled. There are also noble clans, such as the lua Erlo clan. These clans are considered noble because they trace their descent back to the Southern Empire.


The original Charyan marriage is between three people, two men and a woman, or two women and a man, in which every partner is considered equal, and equally married to the two others. This marriage is called yemaran, and the ceremony has been described in Rempt (1992).

Two(3) or three people, from different clans, and in the country, from different villages, would have been meeting for rather more than a year, until an 'understanding' grew between them(4). At that point the parents of the couple would meet and discuss terms of marriage, the most important question being which clan the couple would belong to after the marriage - a question not settled by the sex of the prospective partners - i.e. it is not the case that girls always leave their parents' clan, for instance.

A marriage between people not belonging to the Charyan ethnicity is called hamiran, and this term is also used for wholly arranged marriages, a custom that gained considerable popularity following the conquest of the Matraian empire. Depending upon the customs of the village, inter-ethnic marriages can be prohibited, tolerated or actively encouraged.

Divorce is possible, though the step is a drastic one. The partner desiring a divorce will walk out of the house, the village and possibly even the province, leaving behind himself or herself everything the couple was possessed of.

One's male partner is umir, one's female partner yumir.

Father and mother

The Charyan terms for mother are naha'qosin and naha'munir., the first term is used for the mother who has actually borne the child and means carrying mother. The second term, which means cuddling mother, is used for the other woman, who did not bear the child. A woman is naha'qosin to her own child and naha'munir to her wife's children. If the actual maternity question is not important, the generic term for mother, naha is used. If the naha'munir has breast-fed the child of the naha'qosin, she can be called naha'faya, or milk-mother.

Since in a marriage with two men and one woman nobody can be sure of who the actual father of a child is, there is only one term for father: arda.

Collectively, one's parents are arid. A general term for ancestor (everyone beyond grandparent, within the clan) is keda.


One's son is called anu, one's daughter yani. Collectively, one's children are termed adirir. There is a second system, which numbers the male and female children separately: bridan for instance, is the first son, bridir the first daughter. These terms border on given names, though.

In contrast to the definition in Rempt (1994:2), the difference between anuyi 'grandson' and anuzi 'grandson', is not that the anuyi is the daughter's son and the anuzi the son's son, but rather that the anuyi is a son by a child who has married out of the clan, and who is thus no longer a member of his or her parents' clan, and anuzi is the son of a child who has remained in the clan after marriage. The same holds for the difference between yanizi and yanuiy, the granddaughter inside the clan and the granddaughter outside the clan, respectively.

The paternal grandparents are termed differently from the maternal grandparents. Strangely enough, in view of the distinction in terms for grandchildren, no distinction has been found in terms for grandparents, according to clan.

paternal grandfather


paternal grandmother


maternal grandfather


maternal grandmother


Siblings are termed according to their relative age. There are no different terms for the children of one's naha'munir. Collectively, one's siblings are adir-yadirir.

elder brother


elder sister


younger brother


younger sister


Denden seems to distinguish uncles and aunts according to the sex of the intermediate relative, but not, in the case of maternal uncles and aunts, according to whether the mother is the naha'qosin or the naha'munir.

In the case of nieces and nephews, there is no distinction as to the sex of their parent. It has been plausibly suggested that the dichotomy between paternal and maternal relationship terms is incorrect, and that the correct distinction is, as with grandchildren, one of in-clan versus out-clan.

paternal uncle:


paternal aunt:


maternal uncle:


maternal aunt:


paternal cousin (male):


paternal cousin (female):


maternal cousin (male):


maternal cousin (female):


There are distinct terms for one's sibling's children, though they are often, especially in the country, just termed anu and yani.

fraternal nephew:


fraternal niece:


sororal nephew:


sororal niece:


There is no separate in-law system. The in-law system closely follows the general system, with the prefix nil-(outside) added.


van Driem, George. 1993. A Grammar of Dumi. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Rempt, Boudewijn. 1992. 'Chariaanse Rituelen: het huwelijk "yemaran"', Thought, II, 19: 16-17.

Rempt, Boudewijn. 1994. 'Etymologisch woordenboek van het Denden', Thought, IV, 23: 1-21.

Schwimmer, Brian. 1998. Kinship Tutorial.Manitoba: University of Manitoba


1. Oi'pri or Boyu'apar, viz. Broi, Vroi, Kiroi, Droi, Liroi, Saroi, Niroi, Troi and Proi, although the last city is more Bruslani, ethnically speaking.

2. Within the naming system there is a category of names usually translated as family-names (achternaam in Dutch) that can be either a patronym or a matronym, or a honorary name handed down within the lineage from parent to one of his or her children: aqdentan.

3. A marriage is alway heterosexual, whether it is between two or three people.

4. Usually in the form of a pregnancy.

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Copyright 1998 Boudewijn Rempt.


  • 01-04-1999 - Added h2 elements.