Clan

Clan (rid). A prehistoric and early historic social grouping that claimed descent from a common ancestor. A clan received new blood through exogamous marriages, occasional adoptions, and the liberation of slaves. According to some scholars clans were originally headed by women—the founders of the line (matriarchy)—although the real leaders were elected chiefs, usually the closest relatives of the founders. When the functions of the clan became more complex, men became heads of clans (patriarchy). A clan settled in one locality and held property and land in common. Together the clan supported its members by cultivating the land, raising livestock, hunting animals, and fishing. Most of the tools and implements were manufactured in the closed circle of the clan. Besides economic functions the clan also performed certain social functions, such as providing protection to its members against strangers and maintaining harmony among the members. Growth in clan size and economic changes brought about the gradual separation of families from the clan without, however, the severance of all links with it. The sites that have been uncovered by archeologists could accommodate only single families, but the number of sites on the territory of a clan increased greatly. Exogamous marriage demanded close co-operation among several clans that were linked with each other by family ties. Neighboring clans that were connected not only by blood ties but also by a common language or dialect, religious cult, and work formed tribes.

There is no doubt about the existence of clans in Ukraine in prehistoric times, but there is very little information about clans in the early historic period of Ukraine. The Primary Chronicle, describing the distribution of Ukrainian tribes, states: ‘The Polianians lived apart and governed their clans, for thus far they were brethren, and each one lived with his clan on his own lands, ruling over his clan.’

Archeologists believe that the Monastyryshche fortified settlement (8th–10th century) near Romny, which contained 20–25 clay huts for 70–80 individuals, is an example of a patriarchal settlement. Historians are divided into two groups on the question of clans in Kyivan Rus’: one claims that the clans continued to play a role as a social and economic entity in the early history of Ukraine, while the other (the larger group) asserts that by then clans were extinct. The term rid was applied to the extended family, which included the father, mother, children, and their closest relatives.

Certain characteristics of the clan as an association of several related families with common property and one ruling elder survived in the homesteads (dvoryshcha) of the 14th–16th century (and of the early 20th century in the Boiko region), which consisted of 40–50 individuals who were related either by blood or by adoption.

The traditions of clan solidarity are evident in Ukrainian folk customs, particularly in marriage customs; for example, the negotiations between the marriage brokers representing the two families, the participation of close and distant relatives and even of the neighbors or the whole village (the clan) in the wedding, the obligatory division of the wedding bread (korovai) among the wedding guests, and the delivery of the bread to absent members of the family. The importance, honor, and reputation of the clan (family in the broadest sense) are often emphasized in folk songs and proverbs (‘Anyone who renounces his clan shall be renounced by it,’ etc).

The concept of clan was used in the past in a wide sense. The phrase ‘from the Rus’ clan,’ which was used in the treaties of Prince Oleh and Prince Ihor and appears in the chronicles, designated the Kyivan state. The saying ‘the Cossack clan shall never die out’ referred not only to the Cossack estate (see Estates) but to the Ukrainian nation of the Cossack period. In recent times the term rid has been used usually to refer to the immediate family—parents, children, brothers, and sisters. But the term has been used to refer to distant relatives as well, and even to a tribal or national grouping.

Bohdan Kravtsiv, Mykhailo Zhdan

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]




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