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The effects of culture contact on the Tsimshian system of land tenure during the nineteenth century Darling, John Davidson

Abstract

To understand the system under which land rights are held in any pre—literate society, one must refer to the cultural background since primitive tenure is usually tied in with other aspects of culture. Thus, because a person may hold rights in land according to his social, political and economic status, it is necessary to obtain a clear picture of the social, political, and economic structure, Because a person may obtain or lose his rights according to a change in status, one must be familiar with the rules of succession and inheritance, marriage customs and lineage ties. Public ceremony and tribal mythology are often instruments for the validation of claims, while the means of guaranteeing rights in land are related to the system of social control. Moreover, the reasons for desiring land can only be fully explained by referring to cultural values. It follows that because of this relationship between land tenure and the rest of culture, a system of tenure will be affected by change occurring in cultural aspects with which it is linked. For instance, when a person holds rights in land by virtue of his membership in tribe and family, a breakdown of these groups will tend to invaliaate his claims. Again, when a shift in the political structure leads to new concentrations of authority, different means of controlling land may arise. A changing economy may free people from dependence upon the old social group and thus lead to the individualization of title. When ceremonialism plays an important part in the validation of land rights, its submergence tends to cause confusion of claims. In studying the effects of culture contact upon the Tsimshian system of land tenure during the nineteenth century) the writer began by examining the traditional system of tenure and its relationship to other aspects of culture. The place of the social, political and economic structure in the land tenure scheme was determined, as was the part played by ceremonialism, mythology and the system of social control. The nature of culture contact and its influence upon these aspects of culture was then reviewed. Finally, the writer attempted to determine to what extent the system of tenure was itself affected.

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