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A to Z List of Terms You Should Know in Cultural Anthropology

Two young indigenous girls wearing traditional clothing

In this post, I’d like to share an A to Z list of Cultural Anthropology terms that you should know. I’m sharing one word that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Of course, there are many other important terms in Cultural Anthropology, but this list will get you started!

Please note: If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed that I have not posted in a few weeks. I have been sick with sepsis (a serious bloodstream infection) and spent some time in the hospital. I’m now hoping to get back to my regular posting schedule. Thank you for your understanding!

A to Z List of Terms

A: acculturation

Acculturation is the name for the cultural changes that happen when 2 cultures come into contact. 

B: band

A band is a small group of people who are foragers, meaning they hunt and gather their food. 

C: chiefdom

Chiefdoms are a form of political system, and the authority figure’s role is usually hereditary.

Indigenous people wearing colorful traditional clothing and dancing in a street.

D: dowry

When a man and woman get married, in some cultures the family of the woman gives property or wealth to the husband or his family. This is called a dowry.

E: egalitarian

An egalitarian society is one where there is little inequality. 

F: fictive kin

People who are not biologically related to you, but you still consider them to be family.

G: globalization

Globalization refers to the development of connections and interdependence between the countries of the world.

H: holistic perspective

The idea that all parts of culture are integrated with each other, and no one part can be understood by itself.

I: indigenous peoples

Indigenous people are aboriginal people, or native people. They usually have continued to live a traditional lifestyle, involving pastoralism, horticulture, or foraging.

J: Ju/’hoansi

The Ju/’hoansi are a well-known (in Anthropology) group of people who live in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. They are foragers.

A to Z Terms in Cultural Anthropology. Indigenous African father showing son how to use a bow and arrow.

K: kinship terminology

The system of vocabulary people use to classify their relatives, such as “aunt,” “cousin,” and “grandmother.”

L: levirate

In this custom, when a woman’s husband dies, she marries the brother of her deceased husband.

M: matrilineal descent

This is a form of descent where people trace their kinship relationships through their mothers.

N: nomadism

This is when people move to different places during different seasons, such as moving to a cool high-altitude area when it is very hot and dry.

O: origin myth

An origin myth is a story about the origin and history of a group of people.

P: pastoralism

A way of living that is nomadic and involves taking care of livestock, like cows or sheep.

Q: Q-mode analysis

A comparison of cultures based on the number of traits that they share.

R: reciprocity

Reciprocity is exchanging things in a way that both parties benefit. 

S: shaman

A shaman is also known as a “medicine man.” It is a person who uses supernatural powers to cure people in their group.

Shaman in India.

T: tribe

A type of political organization where there are separate communities that are held together by sodalities (which are groups that unite the communities, such as warrior societies).

U: unilineal descent

A type of descent where you belong to either your father’s or mother’s family line.

V: values

These are shared ideas about goals and lifestyles.

W: worldview

Worldview refers to the way that people see the world around them, and interpret things that happen.

X: xenophobic

This means being afraid of and hating people from different cultures.

Y: Yanomami

The Yanomami are a group of indigenous people who live in the Amazon rainforest. They are well-known in Anthropology.

Z: Zapatistas

Zapatistas are a famous group of Mexican people who are part of the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Front). They incited a rebellion in Chiapas (in Mexico).

Learn More

I hope you enjoyed this A to Z list of terms in Cultural Anthropology that you should know. If you want to learn more Cultural Anthropology terms, check out this glossary at Palomar College’s website.

Thanks for reading!