Geography Reference
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or individual objects are actually involved in the operation is less important than the
number of pairs they come up with. This means that a two-to-one relation is being
established. If the individual has to resort to his toes after pairing up all of his fingers,
the word for many - ahödi - is inevitably used at some point of the procedure, indicating
that anything above 5 or 6 pairs can or should be considered “a large amount.”
However, counting “is only available, as a means of discovering how many terms a
collection has, when the collection is finite” (Russell 1963:172). A brief consideration
of the composition of Xavante moieties indicates that each one is composed of an
indefinite number of terms - in this case, people. Social relationships, as mentioned
above, are fundamental structuring resources for Xavante moieties, which help inform,
in turn, their socionumerical system. Xavante kinship is not reckoned exclusively
in a biological sense, meaning that relationships are designated using a biosocial
theory of conception. The Xavante theory of conception posits that a child is the
product of the accumulated sperm in a woman's womb. Therefore, a child usually has
multiple fathers and mothers, brother and sisters, aunts and uncles, and so on. From
a woman's perspective, her husband's brother is also her classificatory husband with
whom she may have sex. A strictly western-based biological kinship model would
restrict the number of parents to 2 (mother and father), and brothers and sisters, born
from the same pair of biological parents. For the Xavante, instead, a person's father's
brother is also considered to be that person's father (a “classificatory father” from
an anthropological perspective). Therefore, the father's brother's son and daughter
are considered that person's brother and sister, respectively (what we call parallel
cousins in anthropology). Thus, there is usually a rather unlimited number of brothers
and sisters one may have. Following along, a woman's husband's brothers are also
considered to be her classificatory husbands, and their offspring are treated as her
children, too. So how would the Xavante respond to a very simple question we are
used to asking around the world: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
The Xavante theory of conception establishes a series of rights and obligations
towards the child from a network of social relationships that transcends the one-to-one
relationship of biological parents. Like other Gê-speaking societies in central Brazil,
the Xavante kinship system is known to be substance-based, meaning that people are
associated because they share bodily substances, like sperm, saliva, and sweat. Blood,
however, plays no big role for the Xavante and the Suyá of the Xingu Indigenous
Park (see Part I), whose fetus is formed by sperm alone, without the participation of
the mother's blood (Seeger 1980:121). In this respect, rather than inquiring about a
person's father, the Xavante ask “Whose sperm do you belong to?” which usually
entails the leader of a household and his sons. This is because a woman's husbands'
brothers are her classificatory husbands too, as mentioned already. Thus, a Xavante
man or woman does not really keep track of how many fathers, mothers, sisters or
brothers they have, as the relationship is a one-to-many, rather than a one-to-one
relationship that nuclear, monogamous families generally entail.
Not surprisingly, the Salesian missionaries of the Paróquia (Parish) São José in
Sangradouro still interpret this complex kinship system as a sign of promiscuity. The
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