Sociology Index


Matrilineal Descent, Patrilineal Descent, Kinship Structure

A cloned child has unilineal descent, not bilineal descent; he or she is genetically kin to only one progenitor. What is more, in unilineal descent, the genetic kinship is near-total. The cloned child is not genetically unique, but shares almost completely the genetic endowment of the "original" progenitor.

Bilineal descent is system of family descent where blood links and rights of inheritance through both male and female ancestors are given equal importance. The most common form is bilateral descent. A system of tracing descent through both the mother's and father's sides of the family.

In most societies where kinship connections are important, the rules of descent affiliate individuals with different sets of kin. Descent concerns the tracing of relationships through succeeding generations, i.e., who has descended from whom. There are several ways of tracing descents.

Unilineal Descent or one-line descent is that form of descent in which a relationship is emphasised through one sex or line. It is of two types:

1. Patrilineal or Agnatic Descent is a form of unilineal descent traced through males only. It is important to remember that the person calculating descent may be either female or male. Females in a patrilineal descent trace their descent through the line of their father's as male members do.

2. Matrilineal or Uterine Descent is a form of descent traced through females only. Both females and males trace their descent in this way.

There is also the form of Double or Duo Lineal Descent or Bilineal Descent. It is a form of unilineal descent which combines both patrilines and matrilines. Descent is traced separately through female and through male lines for different purposes, e.g., inheritance of immovable property through one line and inheritance of movable property through the other.
Cognatic or Bilateral Descent is non unilineal descent. Here descent is traced through all progenitors, female and male, through both the mother and the father.

In India we generally find the patrilineal descent and matrilineal descent systems. Of the two, patrilineal descent system is more common. Patrilineal descent is more prevalent in North India. Among the tribals, many tribes such as Santhals or Mundas have the patrilineal system. Interestingly the polyandrous Todas too have a patrilineal system.

Tribes such as the Khasis and Garos of North-East have the matrilineal descent system. The Nayars of Kerala are a good example of matrilineal descent.

Unilineal descent groups often take the form of lineages and clans. Lineage is a set of kin, whose members trace their descent from a common ancestor through known links. A clan is often composed of related lineages. A clan is a set of kins who believe that they have descended from a common ancestor but cannot specify the genealogical links with her or him.

Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes argued that the Tallensi and the Nuer were primarily organised around unilineal descent groups. Such groups function are characterised by common purposes, such as administering property or defending against attacks

The Daughters of the American Revolution is a bilineal descent category. The descendants of Abraham Lincoln may be defined as a bilineal descent category.

The Toda of southern India follow bilineal descent. Their property is inherited patrilineally and ritualistic privileges related to funerals are inherited matrilineally.

Unlineal and Bilineal Descent: How Various Cultures Trace Their Heritage
By Joe Norton

There are two types of descent practiced:
Bilinineal Descent - which is descent traced back through both parents
Unilineal Descent - which is descent traced back through one parent.