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Keywords:

  • the paternal/fraternal organisation;
  • kinship;
  • house;
  • initiation;
  • sacrifice

ABSTRACT

In this essay, I will describe the traditional social organisation of the Amis peoples of Taiwan which previous ethnographers have portrayed as consisting of a matrilineal clan-based system conjoined with a residential-based male age-set/grade system. Following David Schneider's critique of ‘kinship’ cross-culturally and the ‘new kinship studies' which his work inspired, I will attempt a reinterpretation of overall Amis social organisation as instead a total kinship-based system comprised of a paternal/fraternal system which integrates and encompasses the multiplicity of maternal-focused houses constitutive of village communities. Rather than being a system composed of kinship and non-kinship parts, I argue that Amis social organisation is comprehensively kinship-based. Moreover, I shall describe how through paternal/fraternal relations generated by rites of male initiation and rebirth this overall integration of diverse matrifocal units is achieved. In the first section, I will describe the structure of the paternal/fraternal initiatory system. In the following section, I will draw upon the major anthropological theories of initiation including rites of passage and the literature on sacrifice to describe numerous aspects of initiation activities, showing how the classificatory father-son and elder-younger-brother relations between and within the initiation sets are explicitly represented by the concepts and practices of the Amis.