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Ambilineality is a cognatic descent system in which individuals may be affiliated either to their father's or mother's group. This type of descent results in descent groups which are non-unilineal in the sense that descent passes either through women or men, contrary to unilineal systems, whether patrilineal or matrilineal. Affiliation to a descent group will be determined either by choice or by residence. In the latter case, children will belong to the descent group with whom their parents are living.

Societies practicing ambilineal descent are especially common in Southeast Asia[1] and the Pacific Islands. Polynesian cultures and Micronesian cultures are often ambilineal, including, for example, Samoans, Māori,[2] Hawaiians and people of the Gilbert Islands.[3] The indigenous peoples of Northwestern North America are also followers of ambilineality; and it is also found among the Southern Yoruba people residing in West Africa.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ramirez, 2014, p.88-98
  2. ^ Firth,1929, p.98
  3. ^ Lambert, 1966
  4. ^ Llyod, 1966


  • Firth [first=Raymond. (1957). "A Note on Descent Groups in Polynesia". Man. 57: 4–8.
  • Firth, Raymond. (1963) “Bilateral Descent Groups: An Operational Viewpoint.” In Studies in Kinship and Marriage. Dedicated to Brenda Z. Seligman on Her 80th Birthday., edited by Isaac Schapera, 22–37. London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain & Ireland.
  • Firth, Raymond. (1929) Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori. New York: E.P. Dutton.
  • Goodenough, Ward H. (1970) Description and Comparison in Cultural Anthropology. Chicago: Aldine :55-58.
  • Lambert, B. (1966) “Ambilineal Descent Groups in the Northern Gilbert Islands1.” American Anthropologist 68 (3): 641–664.
  • Lloyd, P.C. (1966) “Agnatic and Cognatic Descent Among the Yoruba.” Man 1 (4): 484–500.
  • Ramirez, Philippe. (2014) People of the Margins: Across Ethnic Boundaries in North-East India. Guwahati: Spectrum:88-98.