This article will discuss how some lineages are found worldwide, as well as provide some examples to exemplify their characteristics. Lineage societies may be small or large, and exist without centralized leadership or central organization (and sometimes without legal recognition).
In English, the term “lineage society” is sometimes also used in reference to modern organizations descended from an organized lineage society.
Do you know that a descent group formed by members who believe they have a common (sometimes mythical) ancestor is a lineage society. It has an obligation to continue the culture of the ancestors and provide for descendants.
A lineage society’s founding myth tells what role (or roles) its members played in creating it, and may also explain why they are necessary.
The lineage societies in Papua New Guinea, with their secret cults and complex initiation rituals, are one of the few surviving examples of this form of organization. Elected male headmen (singular septum) preside over village or tribal lineage societies.
The relationships between these societies are flexible but often linked, and a collection of villages whose members all belong to the same sept (descent group) make up a clan (tribe). The principle that descent is patrilineal is often followed; if not, then matrilineality or bilineality may be practiced instead.
Here are some points discussed about Lineage society-
1. How can lineage societies survive?
These societies follow the principle of “Patrilineal Descent”, which means that a person’s kinship, through his paternal lineage, is traced back to the great-grandfather. The concept of Paternity used in this system is to establish “paternities” of male descent.
The origin of the word “patrilineal” is believed to be derived from the Latin term “Patria” (meaning “fatherland”) which derives from the Greek word “Pater”, which means “father”. This concept means that each individual has a “father”.
2. How is the relationship between a septum and a clan?
The relationship between two descent groups, though not strict in practice, should be maintained as follows: The septum is headed by a man who acts as the representative of his people.
The septum is responsible for maintaining and upholding kinship relations with other lineages. On this basis, clans help each other economically so that they can keep their ties intact and their members can maintain their mutual relations.
3. Why do only males participate in secret cults?
A lineage society usually has a secret cult, which is a religious body. Only unmarried adult men who passed the rite of manhood can enter the secret societies.
The women of the group have no right to enter their male counterparts’ area of worship. The initiation of these men can be said to be “formal” and “public”.
4. What is the purpose of the secret cults?
The main objective of the secret cult is to preserve genealogical information, as well as to assist in funeral services when needed.
The secrets passed down from generation to generation are not only prayers and secrets of their gods, but also about hardships that their clans have undergone in the past. This can provide a balance between other clans’ assistance and those who do not give assistance when needed by a certain clan.
Religious societies of the Miao people have been said to have characteristics similar to those found among other lineage societies in Southeast Asia (China included). The Song (2003) of the Miao people are said to be an organized group of self-styled priests.
Their leader is called the “song-him” (sometimes translated as “chief priest”), who is elected from within the group.
The Songs are responsible for defining the secret rites and rituals, teaching these to other members, maintaining a large repository of knowledge, and also providing guidance through interpretation of dreams and supernatural occurrences.
5. What is the difference between a lineage society and a secret society?
The terms “lineage society” and “secret society” are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between the two. Secret societies are found in many parts of the world, where members identify one another based on a common origin (kinship).
Members are part of an organized group with distinctive characteristics and beliefs. These groups have been reported to have secret initiation ceremonies and rituals, which can only be performed by initiated members.
A lineage society may not necessarily have a secret cult associated with it (although some do). It is possible that these societies may be organized based on common descent without involving any religious or quasi-religious activities.