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On the origins of Crow-Omaha terminologies
For the anthropologist interested in the evolution of kinship terminologies, the position of Crow-Omaha terminologies presents a somewhat knotty problem. Strengthened by Lévi-Strauss’s labelling of them as ‘semi-complex structures’, we have become used to seeing them as an intermediate stage between ‘elementary structures’ (linked with cross-cousin marriage; cf. Needham’s ‘prescriptive alliance’) and ‘complex structures (or systems)’ lacking cross-cousin marriage. In this view, Crow-Omaha terminologies are characterized not by prescriptions for but proscriptions of certain kin types, but still deal with marriage choices to some extent with reference to kin types identified and sometimes linked, especially vertically, by kin terms. However, detailed ethnographic studies providing proper evidence that Crow-Omaha terminologies may have evolved from elementary structures is patchy at best and speculative at worst. This paper draws together a number of such attempts and case studies in order to discuss their feasibility in a comparative manner.