"And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward, every one after their families, according to the house of their fathers."
The transition from nuclear family to clan is gradual, but you know it when you have a clan at hand. These families often consist of many family branches and generations
, are called collectively "The Foobars", or pompously, "House (of) Foobar". They might have their own family mythos, and the members often resemble each other in looks and personality
. Two such clans can engage in lengthy wars
If there are several clans, each has a tendency to actually wear a hat
. This is popular in a lot of fantasy works. For example, you'll generally run into at least some of the following: a Proud Warrior
House, an Evil or Arrogant Aristocrat
House, a Greedy Merchant
House, and of course The Hero
Holding the clan members together is an official or unofficial head of the family. This person can be an ancestor, someone whose personality centers their family on them, or an actual post that gets passed on through one of the family lines. It could even be a mythological totem, a god, or some kind of spirit. There will also be rituals such as religious ceremonies, rites of passage, war dances, or whatever that are unique to a given clan.
The trope is at least Older Than Feudalism
: The Greek pantheon is a sprawling family large and interconnected enough to count. They say blood is Thicker Than Water
, and it is easy to empathize with the characters. Just like the real ones, the fictional clans can be the safe haven in the storms of life or a maelstrom on the high seas and everything in between. Sometimes alternating. If the clan is powerful and their name ancient they will often be as degenerated as they are proud
. A good example of this comes from the culture which provides the term clan The modern Irish word "clann" still means "family" and ancient Scots and Irish
societies were organized around extended family structures.
Writers often use related characters to show variations on a theme: each character or generation can provide similarity and contrast to each other
Upbringing and heredity mark one forever (often, Lamarck Was Right
too). And relatives, as everybody knows, are impossible to eliminate. All this makes for a lot of characters, clashing personalities, drama, humour, mysteries, characterization and plot.
Two popular variations that might be given the word "clan":
The dynasty: This is a large extended family with many assets. Other than its power and the effort it expends on institutionalizing itself it is no different then any other extended family; that is its membership will probably include a grandfather
as head, their children, and their children plus some in-laws depending on how the matchmaker
arranged the deal. Also included will be dead ancestors which will be honored, carefully recorded and used to make claims in convoluted inheritance disputes. This kind will be typical of aristocratic societies and is as likely to exist in a society with a strong state as one with a weak one. Real Life examples include most European royal and noble families. Also included are several famous mercantile and industrial families, some of whom have left their names on large corporations or other business concerns, as well as on philanthropic enterprises they patronised. These include Rothschild, Vanderbilt, Krupp, etc. Also included in this type of clan are typical Italian patronage webs as featured in The Godfather
. These however are not all criminal enterprises
but have been typical of commercial, political, and social life in Italy for hundreds of years.
The tribe: Though "tribe" is often used to mean "clan confederation" or "ethnicity" this term will do. It is basically like a small kingdom or principality, all of whose members are officially related. It will have far greater population then a dynasty but may have fewer assets. In some ways the difference is as much in how it uses its members rather then the actual numbers. A tribe is more likely to use the physical force provided by the concentration of it's members while a dynasty is likely to use their capacity for gaining social connections. For instance emphasizing it's ability to provide a large warband(or a large workcrew in more stable times) of hundreds or thousands of cousins is typical of a "tribe" but emphasizing the hereditary estates it holds and the possible Arranged Marriages
it can acquire is more typical of a "dynasty". The tribal arrangement will likely be found in nomadic or low-technology cultures but not exclusive to them. It will often arise where the central government is not strong enough to either repress or protect its subjects. This type was the original meaning of the word clan in its Celtic origin where it meant "children"( the original meaning of "tribe" by the way was "Roman voting district"; there were originally three of them and according to the other wiki they were ethnically based so there is a connection to the modern definition). When a more centralized system is instituted these clans often change into mutual assistance groups, business enterprises, political lobby groups, ceremonial associations or what not. Real Life
examples include Scots clans, Native American tribes, Arab tribes, and, in origin, Jews as is indicated by the name "Israel", the name of an ancestral founder.
The difference can be told in the relation of the followers to the family head. If the followers are considered servants or clients of the family then it is the first type. If both the family head and most of his followers are considered members of the clan it is the second.
Not to be confused with The Klan
, a certain Politically Incorrect Villain
organization from the Deep South
of the United States.
Whatever form they take, they will inevitably care a lot about Family Honor
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Anime and Manga
- Outside of the Gotei 13 military organization, most of the "governmental" authority in Soul Society comes from the nobility, who have a strong feudal clan system with main and subordinate branches, sworn retainers, traditional territories, etc. Even Shinigami descended from minor nobility (like Ukitake and Oomaeda) have strong loyalty to their family lines. Seireitei is currently dominated by the Four Great Houses (we know of two of these: Kuchiki and Shihouin).
- The Quincy Clan was large enough at its height to function more like a tribe or ethnic group, but it has recently been confirmed that all Quincies are extended blood kin all descended from The Emperor Yhwach.
- Cardcaptor Sakura: The Li Clan, while not mentioned often in the series, is a large magical family directly descended from the sorcerer Clow Reed of which Syaoran and Meiling Li are members.
- The issue-ridden Sohmas from Fruits Basket who need a Messiah to make their lives better.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: The House of Armstrong has been playing this for laughs for generations. The Xingese characters, on the other hand, play it straight.
- The various clans of Kaze no Stigma.
- The Scrya Clan in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha that Yuuno is a part of. Examining history and the past is the clan's main occupation, and they possess quite a few specialty spells for those purposes such as one that lets them scan through several books at once.
- Many Naruto characters belong to clans, the more notable ones having their own symbol. Some clans have special abilities exclusive to them genetically (called Kekkei Genkai meaning bloodline limit), while others pass down secret clan techniques, and others are just traditions (symbiotic relationships with animals and spirits). Only a few recurring characters don't belong to a specialized clan, thus they are usually Badass Normal. With the exception of Uchiha, whose Hat is copying people (and breathing fire), we hardly ever see any member of these clans using anything but their clan techniques.
- Saiunkoku Monogatari is set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Imperial China with the ruling nobility consisting of eight clans, all named after a different colour.
- The Jinnouchi Clan in Summer Wars. It goes back 16 generations.
- The 10 Great Families from Tower of God, stemming from the 10 Great Warriros that accompanied King Zahard. There is a bit of rivalry between them, but in the Tower, where friend and enemy always change on an individual level, it holds no meaning.
- Tsukihime: The Nanaya clan were a clan of inbred demon-slaying super-assassins who had achieved the limitations of human reflexes/strengths on sheer willpower, training, and dedication. They had a special mutation in their blood which gave them various psychic perception abilities, but since psychic mutations can only usually last for one generation they were a completely incestuous clan in order to maintain that gene. They were wiped out by the Tohno Family before the events of the game, with only one member (the protagonist, Nanaya Shiki) surviving due to a whim of the Tohno Family head (Nanaya Shiki had the same-name-written-differently as his son, Tohno SHIKI); Nanaya Shiki is later brainwashed into believing he is Tohno Shiki to cover for the "accident".
- The Tohno family is also a clan by the standards of this trope, probably moreso, particularly the branch family and head of the family aspects.
- Scare Tactics featured several: the Skorzenys (vampires), the Ketchems (werewolves) and the Knightbridges (ghouls).
- The society of the city of Anvard in Finder is heavily based on clans. It's strongly implied that the similarity of their members is the result of past genetic engineering.
Live Action TV
- The Addams Family: The Addams. Like the main family of the series, the Addams clan is weird but friendly and apparently goes back a very long way. They all seem to be generically freakish, although Addams Family Values showed at least one case of a Muggle marrying into the clan through Cousin It. Family unity is valued very, very highly.
- Babylon 5: Both Minbari and Centauri society consider this important. The Centauri in particular, where practically everyone is part of a House of varying rank.
- Highlander: Had the Clan Macleod, based in real life Scottish history, though with a few Artistic License - History changes.
- North and South: In this 80's mini-series and (as well as the books it was based on) had the Hazards of the North and the Mains of the South. However they were considered friends rather than enemies, and it was the American Civil War that pitted them against each other rather than themselves.
- Revolution: First, you have the Mathesons. Then you have the Nevilles. Also, you get other clans like the O'Hallorans ("Sex and Drugs"), the Thompsons ("The Love Boat"), and the Blackmores ("The Longest Day").
- Shameless: Has the Maguires, described as "a minor crime dynasty stretching back to the potato famine".
- In the Clans, the Bloodname Houses make up the warrior caste, each consisting of every warrior that has a direct matrilineal link to the House's founder, which is not difficult to determine. They would also engage in trials for ownership for genetic lineage. The Clans themselves are not examples, though given their eugenics program it's likely that every Trueborn warrior in a given Clan other than newly freed Bondsmen are related to one another, possibly even inbred.
- Also, the Great Houses (Davion, Steiner, Kurita, Liao, and Marik), controlling families of the Successor States (the Federated Suns, Lyran Commonwealth, Draconis Combine, Capellan Confederation, and Free Worlds League, respectively).
- Exalted: The eleven Great Houses of the Realm are all Clans; five pairs of two houses each sharing a tendency towards producing Dragon-Blooded aspected to one of the five elements. And then there's House Nellens.
- In the dark elf houses from the Forgotten Realms franchise, most members hate each other but don't kill their relatives as long they still need them.
- For the Ravenloft setting, the supplement Legacy of the Blood provides details on several of the Core's most (in)famous clans, including unique family feats, spells, prestige classes and stat modifiers.
- The Dragonmarked houses in the Eberron setting of D&D. Families with a hereditary tendency to spontaneously manifest magic tattoos, and economic dominance of an entire continent.
- The Imperial corporation in Mutant Chronicles was founded by fifty family-run companies which merged to be able to compete with Capitol and Bauhaus. An early corporate CEO referred to the former companies, now sub-divisions, as "clans" in a speech and the term stuck. At the time of the game, several hundred years later, Imperial is a full-fledged clan society, with separate clan traditions, tribal mentality and inter-clan wars coming out the wazoo. However, Imperial clans are much larger than the norm for the trope, with even small clans numbering in the millions.
- Used by name in Legend of the Five Rings. Each clan has specific colors, teaches techniques of magic, fighting, and courtly etiquette (or lack thereof) that are rarely taught to outsiders, and have long histories of particular traditions (the Crane coloring their hair white, the nigh-omnipresence of horses and horsemanship and semi-nomadic lifestyle for the Unicorn, and the pacifism of the Phoenix).
- Romeo and Juliet: The Montague clan versus the Capulet clan. There is a decades-long feud, ending with the last legitimate heirs all dying.
There's also a handful of vague implications that the Prince of Verona is himself the head of a third clan, which is also apparently decimated by the feud (Mercutio, his nephew and presumptive heir since no royal children are mentioned, dies moments before his own killer, the youngest male Capulet, Tybalt, and the prince's cousin Count Paris is killed by Romeo Montague only a little while before the deaths of Romeo and Juliet). In the end, the prince shares in the Montagues' and Capulets' grief by commenting that he has also lost "a brace of kinsmen".
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: The Dunmer (Dark Elf) Great Houses are a combination of blood relations and adopted members. Each House has its own specialty: House Telvanni is led by ancient wizards, House Hlaalu is for merchants and thieves and House Redoran is the warrior house. Two other Houses are mentioned by not seen: House Indoril and House Dres. The Big Bad of the game is the titular head of House Dagoth, which had been forcibly dissolved.
- Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver has the six vampire clans. The five remaining clans we see in the game serve as distinct enemy classes for Raziel to fight.
- Rome: Total War: The Roman Empire (or, more properly, The Roman Republic) in this Real Time Strategy game consists of three main factions, the Julii, Brutii, and Scipii, each one based around a single influential clan (there's also a fourth faction, the Senate, but that one isn't relevant to this trope).
- Castlevania: The Belmont clan from the series, dedicated to battling Dracula and his minions.
- In Drowtales the mega city state of Chel'el'sussoloth is made up of 9 Great Clans and countless smaller clans and guilds, and much of the conflict is between clans. Within the great clans only people directly related to the main house can carry the Val prefix on their names, and within clans there can be countless numbers of houses.
- In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures Cubi have clans with unique traits and tattoo-like markings that members cannot hide with Shapeshifting. Clans are founded by immortal tri-winged Cubi and largely consist of their founder's descendants (though tri-wings become sterile upon ascension).
- In The Gamers Alliance, Maar Sul and Scundia are full of various clans, for example the House of Aurelac and Clan Mallorein. Demons have clans too.
- This is the central mechanic of Imperium Nova, where each player plays as one dynastic House of a Feudal Future.
- Whateley Universe: The incredibly wealthy, aristocratic, lese majeste oriented Goodkind family. If the Goodkinds didn't hate mutants with a passion, they might even be the good guys. Since the main characters are all mutants (including one kid who was a Goodkind and has been disowned after being kidnapped and tortured), the Goodkinds don't look so great.
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: The Apple family, which includes mane cast member Applejack as well as secondary character Apple Bloom (her little sister) and regulars Big Macintosh (older brother of the sisters) and Granny Smith (their grandmother). However, during an Apple family reunion in the first episode, the family is shown to be much, much bigger, with most of them having apple-themed names/cutie marks. A subsequent episode confirms that most of them own and run their own apple farms spread out all across Equestria (one of which, a settlement town named Appleloosa, is the setting of an episode near the end of the first season).
- Scots clans (the original) were a slightly different sort of thing than the small, tight-knit image the word "clan" conjures up today. They could have several thousand members and were almost small kingdoms. Even today some Scots and their far-flung descendants still try to keep at least an awareness of their original clan.
- This has alot to do with the Tannistry clan system the Scottish inherited from Ireland, which is effectively the large sprawling clan numbering in a hundred or more (divided in septs were you can have two different clans with two different loyalties yet share common ancestry and names) swearing loyalty to a Ri or King. Its one of the reasons pre-Norman Ireland had so many kingdoms, so many wars and so few Ard Ri who could command any degree of control over the nation
- Southwestern Native Americans have clans, mostly exogamous and matrilineal. Clans determine who one can marry, marrying anyone from one's parents' or even grandparents' clans is considered incest. Clans also determine one's religious role, each Navajo or Apache clan has its own versions of all the myths and ceremonies, while each Hopi clan has specific ritual tasks, the most prominent being the Snake Clan, who perform the rain dances.
- Many of the great dynasties in history. One of the most important things to remember about history is that monarchs often thought of themselves as head of The Clan first and head of The Kingdom only second.
- Chinese Clans are among the most sophisticated examples of this with such abstractions as written customs and rules and careful recording of ancestry. They can keep in touch over long distances and provide each other Sacred Hospitality.
- In the earliest days of the Wild West (1600 to 1800) in the Appalachians large families with cousins and cousins of cousins would live next to each other. This was necessary, because of the possibility that Indians, French, British, Tories, or simply the folks next door, or whoever they were fighting at the moment might make life uncomfortable. And therefore mutual protection was needed. Having large families together was one way of solving this problem. It was probably similar to the reason a lot of peoples would form into a clan.
Another contributing factor was the fact that many of these settlers were themselves immigrants from Scotland and Northern Ireland. Grouping together into clans was a familiar way to deal with an unfamiliar and dangerous world.
- The Japanese still have a clan system and wars between various clans have led to many of Japan's civil wars for example the Ōnin War was started between the Yamana clan and the Hosokawa clan. That war led to Sengoku jidai, "the Warring States Period" which was basically a very bloody free for all between the various houses for control of Japan.
- Italians are famous for this, especially the most famous Italian clans of all. Older Than Feudalism: Roman families (a gens) were the forerunners to this. Famous ones include the Julii, the Junii, the Cornelii, and the Antonii. The vast webs of patron-client relationships held the Roman Republic together and operated in a fashion very similar to The Mafia.
- In Charlemagne's Empire it was a royal edict that subjects have the right to formally break off clan ties by specific ceremonies(involving the breaking of a cluster of branches of wood).
- The foundation of society in stateless Somalia, there are four "noble" clans (Darod, Dir, Hawiye and Isaaq) which each have several sub-clans, and a number of "mixed" clans. And they're frequently at each other's throats.
- As a picturesque example of clannishness the Scots clan Mac Pherson has the motto Na bean don chat gun lamhainn, which means in gaelic, "touch not the cat without a glove" or as we might say it more pithily "don't touch the cat's claws"; a sentiment roughly equivilent to the American "Don't tread on me" rattlesnake, which perhaps not coincidently was borrowed from Scots-irish immigrants.
- The Kim Dynasty of North Korea.
- Arabs in Israel, especially Bedouins, often associate with clans or tribes. Israel often has issues with adjusting its modern state customs to their clan customs, especially when it comes to clan leaders being seen as having a greater authority than the state. (How justified this sentiment is will not be discussed here.) Some politicians have used this in their favour, though, striking deals with clan leaders for votes. This also tends to be a troublesome issue, as some clans get into feuds.
- The Kennedy family is thought of by many as one of the few American clans.