Navajo clans and marriage choices

Navaho clans have been studied exhaustively by Reichard ( 1928), and their function and significance in modern Navaho life have been set forth by Kluckhohn and Leighton ( 1946, pp. 63-65) in terms which perfectly characterize Shonto. Like resident lineages, Shonto’s clans are of much more historical than functional significance. Their uneven distribution among the various lineages sheds a certain amount of additional light upon the sources of original settlement in the Shonto area.

Navajo family at fair

Navajo family at fair

Virtually the sole surviving function of the clan is in the limitation of marriage choices; clan exogamy at Shonto remains universal. On the positive side, however, no pattern of clan preference in marriage is discernible. The frequency of marriage between different pairs of clans is proportional throughout to the numerical strength of the clans themselves. Beyond limiting marriage choice, clan affiliation serves only to establish certain special etiquette patterns as between members, especially if they happen to be strangers. The relations and reciprocal behavior established are essentially similar to those which ensue when two Anglo-American namesakes meet by chance, and probably have no more functional significance. Economic and social responsibility for clan brothers and sisters are definitely things of the past at Shonto (cf. Kluckhohn and Leighton, 1946, p. 65). It is readily observable that interaction between households and residence groups is determined by blood relationship without reference to clan.
More than any other factor, it is probably the lack of a clearcut residence tradition (see below) which has in the long run robbed Shonto’s clans of most of their functional significance. The result of this situation is that clans cut completely across territorial lines, and cannot be correlated with any of the regular functional units of Shonto society.

Only the first six clans in the list, plus kinlichi’ini, were present in the Shonto area two generations ago. The clan inventory is extremely limited as compared with other Navaho communities (cf. Carr, Spencer , and Woolley, 1939; Kluckhohn and Leighton, 1946, p. 64). In addition to those represented in the community, only 14 additional clans are recognized by some Shonto informants. Many of the clans given separate designation by Reichard ( 1928, pp. 11-13) are believed to be not merely linked but identical. In particular, all of the clans.
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