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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Summer Family, Winter Family

Difficulty: 0

Ive told you about the rough shape of the world that the Sirksey people live in. So

now lets start talking about how they actually live in that world, starting with how families


A lot of things change in the Sirksey world between summer and winter. The shape of their

land changes, and so do their ways of keeping alive. So I thought why not have their family

structure change with the seasons too?

The Sirksey recognize each person as having two families, their summer-family and their


The summer-family is matrilineal. It is known as the alkinsey. There are usually about twenty

people in an alkinsey, but Im only going to show a few here. Every child lives with

their mother, called mesa, or memsi. Their grandmother is the head of the house, the

alkelna, or alna.

Their mothers and grandmothers sisters are all considered aunts, called pesha, and

their brothers are uncles, or tetey.

All of the young girls in the summer-family are considered sisters, or tharai. But the

situation is different for boys. Girls will call all the young boys of their generation

sashe, whether they are cousins or brothers. Boys, however, will call their brothers kerey

and their cousins sashe. This is because they spend all year with their brothers, and only

the summer with their cousins. Girls spend only the summer with both brothers and cousins

after a certain age, so they usually dont differentiate, unless theyre very young.

The winter-family, on the other hand, is patrilineal. When winter comes, mothers will take their

children to their fathers herding family, known as the hinsey. A hinsey usually has

fifty to sixty people in it.

Their father is their hanta, or hansi. The oldest man in the winter-family will be considered

their grandfather, even if he genetically isnt, called hakelna, or kelni.

The adult men are all uncles, lukelney. Lukelne used to be a term for the second in command

- it literally means second leader, as the hakelna would choose another man, usually

the oldest man in the generation below, to lead hunts and train the young boys. But it

became used as a marker of respect, and then it displaced the original world for uncles.

Their wives are called hapesha. Their female children are called anorai, which is also

used as a general word for childhood friends. Their male children are called tashe.

When a boy becomes an adult, this continues. Every summer, he will return home and work

on the farm. When autumn comes, he may travel to nearby villages to find a girl to marry.

In the winter, he will go out with his fathers band, herding their melpha through the mountains

to find pasture, and hunting seals, whales or oxen.

When a woman becomes an adult, she stops spending winters with her dad. During autumn, shell

find a young man she likes, usually a visitor from another village, and shell spend the

winter with him and his family. They become her new hinsey. Most women spend a few years

trying out different families and different men. When she has spent six winters with the

same family, she is considered married, and ready to have children.

A husband calls his wife his kura, and she calls him her pale.

She refers to most of her new winter-family the way her husband refers to them - his brothers

are her kerey, his father is her hanta. The wives of the brothers are called antharai,


A womans job in the winter is mostly to fish, to take care of children, and to produce

material goods like woven fabrics and pottery. The women of one winter-family might come

from very distant areas, so regional styles can spread quickly across Sirksey through

them. The distribution of women also creates webs of affection between families. If your

summer-family is struggling with low crops, then you can draw on the winter-families of

all the women for help. A summer-family calls its network of allied winter-houses its teshna,

and each individual allied winter-family is a tetashna.

A son is ake, and a daughter is ta, though more cutesy names are akki and tathi. Common

nicknames for children are memeli and sisirka, which are similar to calling the children

little melpha foals or chubby little seals, but with some of the letters mixed up so that

you dont accidentally turn your child into a foal or a seal. And you should never name

your children something that sounds like a plant. At least if they turn into a seal pup

you can protect them, but if they turn into a plant they are much more vulnerable. Of

course, this never happens, but it sticks around as a superstition.

Sex is forbidden during summer, and also just impractical. So most children are conceived

in autumn. This means that the most physically demanding periods of pregnancy happen during

the spring when food is becoming more abundant. Most births happen at the start of summer,

when the mother is at her own matrilineal home and can feel most comfortable, and lots

of food can be ready for the child.

You might be wondering: what happens to people who arent straight?

Well, the Sirksey dont really distinguish between gender and sex. So gender is physically

determinedbut physical forms can be changed. If someone is born female, they can dress

as a man and act as a man, and the goddess in the sky will come to see them as a man,

and then after a while he will wake up physically changed. If two people of the same gender

fall in love, one is expected to change sex. That way, the family system stays stable.

When people die, inheritance isnt a big issue. The leadership of the winter-family,

and ownership of the herd, is passed down the male line, but everyone already shared

ownership of them. The same goes for the house and the female line. People dont have very

many personal belongings. When they die, most of their belongings are shared out among whatever

family they are currently with, though there are certain belongings that are passed to

their mother, their children, and their spouse.

After a spouse dies, a man might remarry, but a woman normally doesnt, since at that

point she has usually bonded closely with the winter-family of her dead husband. If

theres a widowed man and a widowed woman in the same winter family, they often marry

each other.

Im not really sure how this style fits into traditional typology of descent and marriage

systems. I think the descent is bilineal, but that only really fits well for men, since

women are considered part of their husbands lineage rather than their fathers. The

residency is virilocal in winter, matrilocal in summer, which I guess would count as ambilocal?

Its messy but probably no more messy than real systems!

But Sirksey dont see their families that way, obviously. Ask a Sirksey person about

their family, and theyll say they belong to the house of the oldest woman in their

summer family, and belong to the herd of the oldest man of their winter family. But really

theyre in the family of all Sirksey. The network of winter and summer families binds

everyone together, as every house is a distant tetashna of every other.

The Description of Summer Family, Winter Family