The Concept Of The Clan Throughout The World


   The idea espoused by the clan in Scotland was not especially unique. The concept of family, of being a member of a group of people who were linked not only through blood, but also through shared values, can be traced throughout the world and back through time.

   The peoples of prehistoric ages, throughout the world, were clannish, living and traveling in their nomadic existence as family units. By ‘prehistoric’, I am including all hominids ~ Australopithecus, who appeared on the Earth sometime from four to four and~one~half million years ago, through Homo sapiens sapiens, who appeared between one and one~half million and ten thousand years ago. In his book, Ascent To Civilization, John Gowlett observed that prehistoric peoples would have tended to operate in family groups or bands of about thirty individuals ~ that being a size that could work efficiently together in the hunting and gathering of food. The composition and size of the family group would remain fairly constant, albeit changing with each death and each new birth. But in addition to individuals in whom the same blood flowed, the group might take on new members who were not directly related. Such new members, though not related by genetics to the core family group, might exhibit skills or possess certain attributes desired or needed by the core family group. The primary factor that determined whether or not an outsider would be accepted into the family group tended to be his/her ability to communicate with the group ~ and by extension his/her communication of values common and agreeable to the group. As the ability to communicate through language became widespread, the size of the family group might increase, with greater numbers of non-directly-related members becoming attached to the core family group through their use of the same dialect or language, which enabled an exchange of shared values. The opposite effect ~ that of the alienation of individuals through a lack of communication ~ is illustrated by the Biblical tale of the tower of Babel. According to the Bible, in Genesis 11:5-8 it is stated that: “Then the Lord came down to look over the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, ‘If, as one people all having the same language, they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city.”

   Genetics, the passing of life from parents to children, might have been the spark that ignited the family group, the clan, into being during pre~historic times; but it was communication that became the glue that held the clan together and allowed it to increase and thrive in a competitive world.

   Throughout the world many societies, with a family and social structure similar to that which would make Scotland famous, have come into being during historic times. In the Americas, starting between twelve and fifteen thousand years ago, the peoples who would come to be known as ‘Indians’ developed a clan-based culture. The name generally associated with the Indian’s family / social order was that of tribe, but that is a rather broad classification, fundamentally based on language rather than lineage. The Indians apparently associated themselves in clans based on descent from a common ancestor, most often a mythological animal ancestor, such as a wolf, bear, turtle and so forth.

   In different regions, kinship within a clan varied from matrilineal to patrilineal relationships, and even to unilineal and bilineal. Matrilineage meant that kinship flowed through the female line. Patrilineage meant that kinship flowed through the male line. Unilineage refers to kinship that is accepted as flowing from either the male or female line, and bilineage refers to kinship that flows equally importantly from both. All types of relationship were valid, and they were employed, primarily, to control breeding and inheritance. In a matrilineal society, the son of a married couple was considered to be the progeny of the mother; the father’s relationship to the son was only casual. In fact, in a matrilineal society, the son of a married couple would be raised and taught by the mother’s eldest brother. But regardless of the type of family relationship, clan loyalty was of utmost significance to each and every clan member.

   The advantages of clan loyalty were many. Clan loyalty enabled most Indians to lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle. An individual knew that he/she would be welcome at the hearth of others of the same clan whether or not they were acquaintances or strangers; there was no fear of starving alone in the forest. A slight or injustice made against one member of the clan was deemed to have been made against all members of the clan, so an individual knew that wrongdoing against him/her would be avenged by the others of the clan.

   The concept of the clan can also be found in other parts of the world ~ for instance in the history of China, Japan and various Pacific Ocean island cultures. The ‘dynasties’ for which China and Japan are so well known, were basically clans similar to the tribes of the American Indians. The history of this region of the world is noted for the warfare that flared between clans.

   The key aspect of the clan does not necessarily lie in the members’ actual genetic relationships, but rather in the ideological nature of the loyalty exhibited by the members of the clan to the clan, whether or not they be genetically related. This is an important thing to consider when one is researching his/her ancestry. In some cases, genetically unrelated individuals might have assumed the surname of the principal clan stock. Therefore, the assumption that “all Mackintoshes are related” is erroneous.