Segmentary lineage
Segmentary opposition
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A way of organizing descent groups that is found particularly in Northern and Eastern Africa (some of the most famous examples, e.g. the Nuer of Southern Sudan (Evans-Pritchard 1940), are pastoral nomads). In segmentary lineages, (descendents of) close kin stand together against more distant kin: (descendents of) brothers are allied against (descendents of) cousins, cousins against second cousins etc. Thus, even very distant kin will automatically put their conflicts to the side and unite against any threat from groups of non-kin (as all Nuer unite against the neighboring Dinka). Sahlins, emphasizing the military aspect of this mechanism, has referred to the segmentary lineage as "an organization of predatory expansion" (1971), but the segmentary lineage system also has other important functions, e.g. in regulating inheritance and property rights. (See lineage, kinship, structural functionalism.)