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Custom Social Structure of the Tlingit People essay paper sample

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The Tlingit people live in the southeastern coast of Alaska and the Alexander Archipelago. They have their Tlingit language has rare and complex grammar and sounds that are not in any language. The culture of the Tlingit is based on the family and kinship ties (Emmons, 1991). They value the proper behavior, wealth, power, and generosity. Their society is divided into two moieties that were distinguished by being affiliated to either the Wolf or the Raven. The moiety was the main line that divided the Tlingit society even though the current generation does not identify themselves with the moiety. Today, individuals identify themselves with their matrilineal clans, which are known as naa in Tlingit language. According to the Tlingit, a clan is a group of persons who are related through shared history, genealogy, and possessory rights (Emmons, 1991). The clan is the major property owner and not individual persons.

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The Tlingit marriages were arranged and the man went to live in the woman's house. A man was supposed to get married to a woman who comes from his father's clan but both should not be related. This means that children and their paternal grandfather shared a clan. These children could be able to inherit names, prestige, personal possessions, occupation, and wealth. He had access to the resources of his wife's clan and participated in food gathering. Children belonged to the mother's clan and thus fathers played a minor role in raising children. He gave them gifts and played with them. This is what inspired many grandfathers to play an active role in raising their grandchildren. A maternal uncle taught Tlingit children manners, discipline, and imparted basic skills. Maternal uncles were feared because they exposed children to tough discipline and training.


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Any Tlingit person is a part of a clan, either by adoption or by birth. Most of the Tlingit children belong to the clan of their fathers. The way father and child relate is extremely influential on the way two clans relate. If a clan has trouble, they can call the clan of the child's father to assists. On the same grounds, they may not call him, if they consider that clan their enemy.

Every clan had various houses (hit) under it. A house was formed of a group of persons who had close family relations. This people lived in a physical communal house that was the property of the clan but the material property was theirs. A male of high status within the family led every house. This person was referred to as house leader (hit s'aati'). The house chief who was recognized as having a powerful status in community was chosen as the community chief or leader (aan s'aati').

The house leader played the role of an administrator and caretaker of house, and some of the clan property. The house leader referred to himself as the clan "slave" because he did not own any of the property. His key role was to give ordered whether an item was to be used or not. In the real sense, the house leader did not own the item thus, he was not authorized to sell, destroy, or dispense it. The house leader also acted as an "overseer" at potlatches where the history and value of cal regalia would be reconfirmed by being used ceremonially or for clan payments.

Potlatches (koo.eex') were events that were held during childbirth, and naming, death, marriage, special events, wealth sharing, raising totems, and honoring the dead (Emmons, 1991). The main feature of the Tlingit culture is the memorial potlatch. Two years after a person's death, a potlatch is held to reinstate balance within the community. This also signified the end of the mourning period for the deceased family. The main aim of a potlatch was to banish fear associated with death and afterlife uncertainties. It is important to note that the social structure in the Tlingit community was matrilineal and no individual owned property. Although these people have been suffered from "Americanization," they still hold to their beliefs and values that is why they have a matrilineal system until date.

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