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Acephalous: Describes a society with no central authority, no "chief".

Ambilocal: Describes a residence occuring when a newly married couple live indifferently and often successively with the groom's or bride's parents after their wedding.

Anthropology: The set of sciences studying Man: social and cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, ethnology, linguistics, etc.

Anthropomorphous: In human form.

Primitive art: "Primitive" is associated to artwork created by people who it is believed will stay in the first state of humanity. Although inadequate, today this term is part of a linguistic convention accepted particularly in English-speaking countries where such an expression is used.

Austronesian, Austronesian languages: A mix of Malayo-Polynesian languages spoken on the islands in the Indian Ocean and in Oceania.

Avant-garde: Describes artistic movements that show a desire to make a radical break with tradition, accepted ideas and established schools.

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Bantu: Term referring to a group of African populations who speak related languages. With no cultural unit, these populations live south of the Equator, stretching from Douala in Cameroon to the mouth of the Tana (Kenya).

Bilinear: Bilinear filiation or double filiation combines a principle of patrilinear filiation with a principle of matrilinear filiation and attaches all individuals to a group of each type, the elements of their status acquired in one line being different to those that they acquire from the other. For example, a person acquires his name and land from his father, but his religious functions and political status from his mother.

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Shaman: An individual, man or woman, with the capacity to communicate with the spirits - of animals, trees, the dead, etc. - and who acts in conjunction with them to predict the future, heal illness or ward off attacks from evil spirits. A term referring originally to religious specialists of societies in Northern and Central Asia.

Chiefdom: This has two meanings in French ethnological literature. It refers to an elective or hereditary office, the holder of which is invested with political authority over a given group and, by extension, this same group, generally of reduced size, which distinguishes it from a kingdom. Original French quote taken from Bonte, P. et Izard, M. Dictionnaire de l'ethnologie et de l'anthropologie. Paris : © PUF, collection Quadrige, 2000.

Clan: A group based on kinship, created by applying a principle of unilinear descent, i.e. either passing exclusively by men (patrilinear clan) or by women (matrilinear clan). As a rule, a clan is an exogamous social group. It gives rise to duties (of solidarity, sharing) and rights (to land, to titles, etc.) for members.

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Splint: Thin slither of wood or fibre obtained by chopping.

Endogamy: Rule obliging individuals to choose their spouses from within their clan or tribe. For example, in India, the requirement to marry inside your caste (compare with exogamy).

Aesthetics: Philosophical and scientific study of art and beauty.

Ethnography: Study and description of human groups (ethnic groups, cultures, societies, etc.).

Ethnology: Study from a theoretical perspective of facts obtained from ethnography (see ethnography).

Exogamy: Rule obliging individuals to find their spouses outside of their clan or tribe (compare with endogamy).

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Undifferentiated filiation: Type of filiation where the individual belongs to his father's and his mother's group at the same time. He may claim his belonging to both or one or the other indifferently.

Functionalism: Ethnological method and theory proposed by Bronislaw Malinowski which involves designing a society as a functional body made up of institutions and social structures acting as organs of this body.

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Gerontocracy: Government led by the male elders of the society.

Chief's House: Prestigious residence for the eldest of the first lineage: the clan chief.

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Lineage: Group of unilinear filiation whose members are considered as descendants either via the men of a common ancestor (patrilinear lineage) or via the women of a common ancestor (matrilinear lineage).

Lineage by rank: Hierarchies of rank between lineages, clans or tribes - legitimised by ceremonial, functional or political distinctions - are based on a principle of seniority, i.e. the difference between the oldest or youngest lineages or the greater or lesser genealogical distance separating a lineage or a clan of the lineage or of the clan from those who descend from the founding ancestors and exerce the power.

Lithic: Relates to the stone industry.

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Manueline: Describes a decorative and architectural art style that developed in Portugal under the reign of Manuel I the Fortunate, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Matrilinear: Describes a filiation method in which only maternal ancestry is taken into account when passing on names, statuses, belonging to a social unit and when choosing the group into which an individual is obliged to marry.

Original French quote taken from Dictionnaire des peuples, sous la direction de Jean-Christophe Tamisier. Coll. Les Référents © Larousse-Bordas 1998.

Micronesia: Micronesia encompasses the Mariana, Caroline, Marshall and Kiribati Islands. The main islands are volcanic while the others are coralline. Spain, Germany, England, Japan and the United States have all exerced a strong colonial hold over Micronesia, although several of the least accessible islands remained isolated until World War II. Since then, major changes have taken place due to evangelisation, schooling and development of employment. The Micronesians, who number around 200,000, are divided into seven political units: two independent nations (Nauru and Kiribati), two who uphold a "free association" with the United States (Republic of the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia), two belong to the United States (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Territory of Guam) and the Republic of Palau (Belau), a United Nations "Trust territory".

Original French quote taken from Bonte, P. et Izard, M. Dictionnaire de l'ethnologie et de l'anthropologie. Paris : © PUF, collection Quadrige, 2000.

Halves: Many societies in America, Asia and Oceania are divided into two groups, each with distinct but complementary functions in the reproduction of the society. These halves are often exogamous. The men from one half marry the women from the other half and vice versa.

Monoxylic: An object made, carved out of a single piece of wood.

Nativist movement: Movements created by members of a society going through a serious crisis and looking for a better life by "getting back to the roots" (...). They are generally characterised by the appearance of prophets, soon followed by disciples, in search of a new code of conduct.

Original French extract from Michel Panoff et Michel Perrin Dictionnaire de l'ethnologie. Paris : Payot, 1971, page 189.

Museography: All of the technical notions necessary for presenting and conserving collections in museums.

Museology: The science of organising museums, from conserving to presenting the collections.

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Patrivirilocal: Describes a couple who, after their wedding, live in the village of the husband's parents.

Patrilineage: Group of filiation whose members claim to be descended from the men of a common ancestor.

Patrilinear: Describes a method of filiation in which only the descent via the men is taken into account when passing on a name, statuses or belonging to a social unit (clan for example).

Original French quote taken from the Dictionnaire des peuples, sous la direction de Jean-Christophe Tamisier. Coll. Les Référents © Larousse-Bordas 1998.

Patrilinearity: Filiation based on paternal ancestry.

Pidgin english: A Melanesian lingua franca made up of Malay and English words which developed among the German and Australian plantations.

Pluridisciplinarity: Character of what concerns several disciplines at once.

Polynesia: Ensemble of islands occupying two-thirds of the South Pacific. Polynesia has a Western part with the Tonga and Samoa Islands in particular, and an Eastern part running from the Hawaiian Islands in the north to New Zealand and Easter Island in the south-west and the south-east with, in the middle of this vast triangle, the Society Islands and neighbouring archipelagoes that make up central Polynesia.

Potlatch: The term "potlatch" means "gift" or "to give" in a ceremonial context. It refers to a series of events (festivals, dances, speeches, ostentatious distributions of assets) held among the fishing-hunting-gathering populations along the north-west coast of the United States and Canada. Organised during key events in the life of an individual and in rivarly contexts between chiefs, these ceremonies are only complete with the distribution of prestigious assets and food by a host to formally invited guests in view of the public validation of family prerogatives. The potlatch is the means by which an individual acquires and maintains a political influence and social position within a hierarchical ranked system. It ratifies both the donor's and receiver's statuses. The term "potlatch" comes from the Chinook language, but has become a general concept in anthropology, referring to all forms of political competition involving ever greater donations of gifts and counter-gifts. The practice of potlatch was banned by the Canadian government in 1884. As a past symbol of Indian resistance and a current sign of "cultural renaissance", the potlatch has become the basis for new political stakes.

Original French extract from the Dictionnaire de l'ethnologie et de l'anthropologie, Paris, © PUF, collection Quadrige, 2000. Sous la direction de Pierre Bonte et Michel Izard (d'après la notice de Marie Mauzé).

Primitivism: The term "primitivism" emerged in the West at the turn of the 20th century. It refers to an attitude that accords value to archaic, folk or ancient art forms.

Propitiatory: With the virtue of prompting deities, spirits or ancestors to look favourably upon human prayers and requests.

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Avunculocal residence (or "avunlocal residence"): when married couples live with the husband's uncle, or on this uncle's land.


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Segmental: Describes a society that is socially organised on the basis of a division into several groups of unilinear relationship (clans), which are then further divided into smaller units (lineages). These may separate from their clan as the population increases and become starting points for new clans related to the first. Original French quote taken from the Dictionnaire des peuples, sous la direction de Jean-Christophe Tamisier. Coll. Les Référents © Larousse-Bordas 1998.

Structuralism: Anthropological theory and method seeking to group human sciences together into a global science of communication. The research scope attempts to reveal the universal identity of the human mind. It involves establishing the theory of mental structures, invariants. Lévi-Strauss was partly inspired by the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and applied this method principally to kinship and myths.

Surrealism: A literary and art movement began in France which brings dreams, instinct, desire and revolt into conflict with different forms of moral and social conventions. André Breton was the central figure.

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Taboo: This was originally a Polynesian word. The term, in the ethnological context, refers to prohibitions or systems of prohibitions applied to certain or all members of a society.

Totem: This was originally an Indian word from North America (Algonquin). The term, in the ethnological context, refers to an animal, plant or other material or substance considered to be an ancestor or the mirror to a person's identity and individuality. Taboos are often associated with totem (see taboo).

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Virilocal: Describes the residence of a couple who, after their wedding, live in the village of the husband's family.


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