I’ve told you about the rough shape of the world that the Sirksey people live in. So
now let’s 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 I’m 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 mother’s and grandmother’s 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 don’t differentiate, unless they’re very young.
The winter-family, on the other hand, is patrilineal. When winter comes, mothers will take their
children to their father’s 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 isn’t, 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 father’s 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, she’ll
find a young man she likes, usually a visitor from another village, and she’ll 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 woman’s 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 don’t 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 aren’t straight?
Well, the Sirksey don’t really distinguish between gender and sex. So gender is physically
determined… but 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 isn’t 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 don’t 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 doesn’t, since at that
point she has usually bonded closely with the winter-family of her dead husband. If
there’s a widowed man and a widowed woman in the same winter family, they often marry
I’m 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 husband’s lineage rather than their father’s. The
residency is virilocal in winter, matrilocal in summer, which I guess would count as ambilocal?
It’s messy but probably no more messy than real systems!
But Sirksey don’t see their families that way, obviously. Ask a Sirksey person about
their family, and they’ll 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
they’re 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.