Fison & Howitt discover the clan
Anthropologist Les Hiatt describes as of 'seminal importance' a scientific paper published in 1883 by Fison and Howitt.
'In order to comprehend the social structure of an Australian tribe, they argued, it was necessary to distinguish between groups defined on the basis of locality and groups concerned with the regulation of marriage. For convenience, they suggested that the two types should be treated respectively under the headings of "local organisation" and "social organisation". In regard to the former: (i) each tribe was made up of a number of clans; (ii) each clan was located in a separate part of the tribal territory; (iii) the clan was a corporate group with perpetual succession through males; (iv) the clan held hunting rights over the tribal division it occupied; (v) marriage within the clan was forbidden; (vi) female members of the clan went in marriage to men of other clans, whose sisters in turn came to it in wives.'
This discovery - that the Aboriginal 'clan' was a land-owning unit - was elaborated in subsequent anthropological research, and this accumulated knowledge became important in the 1970s when the Commonwealth set out legislation conferring land ownership on Aborigines. Research conducted in the context of Northern Territory land claims since the late 1970s has extensively revised anthropologists' descriptions of people/land relationships.
Keywords: anthropology, clans, Fison, Lorimer, Hiatt, Les, Howitt, William Alfred, kinship, land boundaries, land ownership, marriage, Northern Territory
Hiatt, L 1996, 'Arguments about Aborigines: Australia and the evolution of social anthropology', Cambridge University Press, pp 19,20.
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor