Kinship understanding ANT 170
Popular in Cultural Anthropology
Popular in Cultural Anthropology
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ANTH 2390 A02 Social Organization Module 3 Kinship and Marriage We have so far covered a broad overview of basic social institutions and how they fit together to form broader patterns of sociocultural integration both in general terms and in the context of particular societies. Beginning with this module we will turn to investigating specific institutions in greater detail. Our specific concern in the next units will focus on kinship, perhaps the most basic of all systems of organizing individuals into social groups, roles, and categories. Some form of organization based on parentage and marriage is present in every human society and probably emerged in the earliest phases of human prehistory. Although contemporary family structures in Western societies have been weakened by the dominance of the market economy and government social services, the nuclear family household is still the fundamental institution responsible for rearing children and organizing consumption. In nonindustrial contexts, kinship groups normally have a much wider array of functions. They often serve as basic units of production, political representation, and even as religious bodies for the worship of spiritual beings, who are sometimes also considered to be members of the family. In recognition of its widespread importance we will chart the differences in kinship practices that are evident in many cultures around the world and attempt to explain these wonderful and often curious expressions of our common humanity. We will be specifically interested in: 1. the formation of groups and relationships based on descent (parentage); 2. the semantic and sociological significance of kinship terms; 3. marriage rules and conjugal relationships; and 4. the structure and dynamics of the household. Readings Lee, Richard, Dobe Ju/’hoansi, chapters 5 & 6. Uchendu, Victor, Igbo, chapters 57. Stirling, Paul, Turkish Village, chapters 59. Figures There is a large diagram set that accompanies these notes to which references are made in the relevant part of the text (e.g Figure 9.2). All these illustrations are available in a companion document that can be downloaded from the course website or from Jump. Note that the diagrams are in colour, so that the onscreen version will usually contain information that will be lost in a black and white printoff. Preliminary definitions, terms, and concepts Kinship is a fundamental feature of human experience and social organization that is present in some form or another in all societies. On the basis of patterns in Western societies, anthropologists generally define kinship as a system of thought, custom, and behaviour that is based upon people’s ideas of biological relatedness (parentage and descent) and reproduction (marriage). They are interested in the comparative study of these institutions for the purposes of discovering common patterns and variable forms that they assume in specific societies. They are widely divided over which if any features can be viewed as universal and why regularities and variations occur. On one extreme, sociobiologists take a reductionist position and see all family institutions as conforming to a basic plan that is determined by human biological and evolutionary necessities. On the other, cultural relativists maintain that kinship has no intrinsic relationship to biology and is unlimited in its possible forms. I will assume a middle ground and maintain that kinship is based upon culturally determined knowledge, beliefs, and values concerning biological relatedness and reproduction. Accordingly, an underlying framework is present but is substantially modified by cultural ideologies and social practices. Furthermore, these variations on common themes are considerably more interesting and instructive than the more tenuous universals. Universal features of kinship systems that have been proposed include the following: 1. a lengthy infant maturation period that requires a major commitment from one and usually both parents to nurture and socialize dependent children; 2. the presence of a marital bond that creates a permanent and ideally exclusive sexual and economic relationship between two or more people; 3. a division of labor based on gender; and 4. a prohibition on intercourse and marriage between close kin, which creates a widely articulated network of relationships between individuals related by birth and marriage. These postulated universals are subject to extreme ranges of variation that often challenge the validity of any generalizations. For example the determination of kinship ties and the binding of individuals into kinship networks assumes a basic theory of sex and birth. However, cultures have different views about the “facts” of life and the meaning of marriage and parentage. The Trobriand Islanders maintain that the sex act has nothing to do with a child’s birth, which they consider to be the result of impregnation by the mother’s ancestral totemic spirit. Accordingly, kinship is recognized only according to links through females in a matrilineal system. Fathers and sons and other people linked through males are technically not biological relatives at all, although they may assume important social roles and relationships. Similarly, the Yanomamo arrange people into localized patrilineages, whose members regularly marry into the same groups generation after generation. Therefore a man’s wife and mother often belong to the same familial line, creating a situation where mothers are considered to be in laws rather than biological kin. An opposite perspective is taken by long standing Catholic views on consanguinity and affinity. Marriage is seen as a literal union of the husband and wife, who become “one flesh” as a consequence of the wedding sacrament. The resulting network of people linked by marriage are transformed into biological kin, and, according to cannon provisions, are not allowed to marry. Thus incest prohibitions are applied to a range of a spouse’s relatives, which has varied over time but once included distant cousins. Beyond this regulation, the Church also applies standards of kinship to an individual’s baptismal sponsors, or godparents, who are unrelated to the child by birth or marriage. Anthropologists term this relationship “fictive kinship”, but this is an inaccurate designation for Catholic practice. The Church, at one time, prohibited marriage between godparents and godchildren, between a godparent and a sponsored child’s parent (i.e., coparents), and even between otherwise unrelated people who shared the same godparents. A similar system of fictive kinship is represented in the Ju/’hoansi institution of “namesake kin,” which we will consider in the second unit in this module. Kinship diagrams: Basic elements Before we begin to understand kinship, we need to define some basis symbols that are used in constructing kinship diagrams, the fundamental tool for defining concepts and representing case studies. 1. A circle represents a female 2. A triangle represents a male 3. An equal sign represents a marriage 4. A vertical line represents descent or parentage 5. A horizontal line represents a sibling bond. 6. Relationships are traced through a central individual labeled EGO. These various elements are joined to produce a kinship diagram. Figure A.1 Kinship Diagramming and Symbols (Kinship Symbols) Types of kinship relationships All societies construct their kinship systems and define social groups, roles, and relationships on the basis of a bilateral network formed through combinations of marriage and parentage ties. In some societies, the extended bilateral network, termed a kindred, forms a recognized social group, as in the case of many early medieval cultures. In contemporary European cultures, bilateral kinship is dominant, but no recognizable groups are formed. In many nonWestern societies emphasis is placed on exclusive descent through male or female relatives as was also the case in ancient Israel and Rome. Nevertheless, these unilineal systems, also recognize kinship relationships that are not incorporated into exclusive male and female lines. The following diagram below represents a bilaterally extended kindred which forms a template for tracing a variety of kinship relationships from an egocentric, or individually centerd perspective. Figure A.2 An Egocentric Bilateral Kindred It charts out a short range of Ego’s consanguineal kin (literally “blood” relatives), to whom he is related by birth. He will also have important relationships with affines or affinal relatives (not shown on this diagram) linked by his own marriage or that of one of his consanguines. Having outlined a general set of symbols and a template for diagraming, we must now define and illustrate a few ways of classifying kin appropriate to anthropological analysis. The terms employed should be understood as “etic” categories, those used by anthropologists to describe and understand their data. They differ from “emic” classifications, which are specifically defined within a cultural context. Etic and emic ways of classifying kin may differ substantially as demonstrated in the previous discussion of how different cultures distinguish consanguineal from affinal kin. At this point the definitions and distinctions you will view are merely intended to provide an general overview of concepts that will be explained and illustrated more fully as you proceed though the subsequent sections. 1. Lineal vs. Collateral Kin Lineal kin are either the direct ancestors or descendants of a particular Ego. Collateral kin are composed of Ego’s siblings and their descendants and the siblings his/her lineal kin of ascending generations and their descendants as well. They can be pictured as side branches off of the main trunk that links a person to his ancestry and progeny. Figure A.3 Lineal vs. Collateral Kin 2. Matrilateral vs Patrilateral Kin Matrilateral kin include all family members related through Ego’s mother Patrilateral kin include those related through his/her father. Figure A.4 Matrilateral vs. Patrilateral Kin In medieval England the bilateral kindred was an important group for many social and political purposes, as was the division between the matrilateral or “spindle” kin (all of a person’s mother’s relatives) and the patrilateral or “spear” kin (all of person’s father’s relatives). This distinction is still evident in our current term “distaff” to indicate mother’s family members. (Note that the distinction between matrilateral and patrilateral kin and that between matrilineal and patrilineal relatives discussed next are quite different) 3. Matrilineal and Patrilineal Kin Patrilineal , or agnatic, relatives are identified by tracing descent exclusively through males from a founding male ancestor. Matrilineal , or uterine, relatives are identified by tracing descent exclusively through females from a founding female ancestor. Figure A.5 Matrilineal vs. Patrilineal Kin Unlike the patrilateral and matrilateral grouping, these unilineal connections are consistently traced through a series of relatives of the same gender. Accordingly there are kin on each side, who are neither patrilineal nor matrilineal. These are known as cross relatives. Among the members of this category, cross cousins are of particular importance, especially for some marriage systems we shall discuss. Cross cousins can be identified as the children of opposite sexed siblings (of a brother and sister) and parallel cousins as the children of samesexed siblings (of two brothers or two sisters). Having defined a number of symbols, conventions, and distinctions used to describe and analyze kinship relationships, we will now proceed to our first topic on the reckoning of descent and activation of unilineal kinship ties to form social groups and define social roles, statuses, and relationships. Unit 7 Descent Systems The first critical area of substantive kinship analysis involves the study of descent systems. This topic is concerned with the rules that people in different cultures use to determine parenthood, identify ancestry, and assign people to social categories, groups, and roles on the basis of inherited status. Descent systems are divided into: 1. unilineal systems, in which descent is traced through parents and ancestors of only one gender, and 2. cognatic systems, in which descent can be traced through either or both parents. Uninlineal systems are further subdivided into patrilineal and matrilineal forms. Cognatic modes also have two variants: bilateral and ambilineal. Several ethnographic examples will be covered to illustrate both the formal rules of kinship involved and the practical management of ontheground social relationships as they are worked out in the different descent systems. The examples chosen are identified in the following table: Culture Descent System Location Form of Social The Akan culture has been added to the case studies to provide an example of a matrilineal order. The Yanomamo have been included to demonstrate some additional features of unilineal organization. The Gilbert Islanders are an Oceanic people with an ambinleal system typical of the area. We will also draw comparative examples from Western social experience, which is based on a cognaticbilateral structure. Culture Descent System Locatoin Social complexity Yanomamo Patrilineal Amazon Tribe Igbo Patrilineal West Africa Tribe Akan Matrilineal West Africa Chiefdom* Turkish Patrilineal Eurasia State Ju/’hoansi Bilateral South Africa Band Gilbertese Ambilineal Pacific Tribe *A decentralized state form Study questions Identification Consanguineal relative Affinal relative Kindred Unilineal descent Clan Moiety Segmentary Lineage Cognatic descent Dual descent Ambilineal descent group Corporate group Civil degree system Cannon degree system Cognatic degree system Wergeld payment Umuna Diagramming With reference to the numbers in the figure, identify the following relatives of Ego: 1. The members of his patrilineage 2. The members of his matrilineage 3. Relatives who are both patrilineally and matrilineally related to him 4. His cross cousins 5. His parallel cousins 6. His consanguineous relatives 7. His affinal relatives 8. His collateral relatives Essays 1. Identify the main structural and functional features of unilineal descent systems and illustrate how they are reflected in the basic kinship group organization of the Igbo. 2. Identify the main structural and function features of bilateral descent systems and illustrate how they are reflected in the basic kinship group organization of the Ju/’hoansi. 3. Compare and contrast women’s roles and importance in the Turkish and Igbo lineage systems. Explain any similarities and differences that you observe. 4. Compare and contrast the Igbo and Akan lineage systems. Explain any differences that you observe. 5. Compare and contrast the Ju/’hoansi and Igbo descent systems. Explain any differences that you observe. 6. Draw a diagram of your kindred and discuss how the kinship connections you have outlined affect your social life, i.e. what kinds of interactions and exchanges are defined within your circle of kin. Study notes Many societies construct kinship groupings, roles, and relationships by tracing descent exclusively through the male patrilineal or female matrilineal line. The resulting units are called unilineal descent groups, either patrilineages or matrilineages according to the prevailing descent rule. While people of European ancestry are more familiar with bilateral systems, over twice the number of cultures (70 percent in one sample) follow unilineal kinship rules (Murdock 1949:59). In many of these societies, unilineal descent groups assume important corporate functions such as land ownership, political representation, and mutual aid and support. Patrilineal systems are much more common than matrilineal ones, occurring at roughly twice the incidence. They may be familiar to you from the Bible (the “tribes” of Israel and their subdivisions were patrilineages) and from ancient Greek and Roman family patterns, or contemporary Chinese, East Indian, or Middle Eastern cultures. Matrilineal forms are nevertheless ethnographically important and, like patrilineal forms, are represented in every inhabited continent. The powerful West African Ashanti kingdom developed within a matrilineal society. Accordingly, the heir to the throne was not the king’s (Asantehene’s) own child but his sister’s son. Early British emissaries to Ashanti learned about this family system the hard way during their attempts to win favour with the royal court. They supported several of the Asantehene’s sons to be educated in England only to realize that the allies they had so carefully cultivated were not in line to assume the throne. Patrilineal descent Figure 7.1 Patrilineal Descent, Ancestor Focus Patrilineal relatives can also be charted from an egocentric perspective and are linked through a continuous series of male ancestors and descendants. Figure 7.2 Patrilineal Descent, Egocentric, Male Ego Figure 7.3 Patrilineal Descent, Egocentric, Female Ego (Note that a woman is included in her father’s patrilineage but that her children will belong not to her group but to her husband’s.) Matrilineal descent Figure 7.4 Matrilineal Descent, Ancestor Focus Matrilineal relatives can also be charted from an egocentric perspective and are linked through a continuous series of female ancestors and descendants. Figure 7.5 Matrilineal Descent, Egocentric, Female Ego Figure 7.6 Matrilineal Descent, Egocentric, Male Ego (Note that a man is included in his mother’s matrilineage but that his children will belong not to his group but to his wife’s.) Dual descent In addition to patrilineal and matrilineal principles, some unilineal systems combine both rules to form a dual descent structure. Figure 7.7 Dual Descent In this arrangement ego is a member of two separate and fundamentally distinct groups: a matrilineal group through his mother and a patrilineal group through his father. Where dual systems are employed, one type of group will tend to take on complementary functions in respect to the other. For example, among the Yako of Nigeria, patrilineages are important for the allocation and inheritance of land, while matrilineal groups control the ownership of movable property such as cattle. Descent group structures Having outlined the basic methods of tracing unilineal descent relationships, we must now turn to an investigation of how they are actually applied to the organization of specific societies. This undertaking will involve a consideration of the structure and function of groups and social roles based on matrilineal or patrilineal principles. Social structure covers the division of society in to groups and roles and the criteria by which individuals are assigned to them. Function refers to the range of activities that these institutions organize for their members. Unilineal descent groups come in many different forms and sizes. The ancient Hebrews had large descent groups, which included tens of thousands of people and were subdivided into smaller constituent units on a number of levels. They also maintained detailed genealogical records to document the statuses that they held as lineage members. Akan and Igbo groups usually number several hundred members and are also subdivided into branches. The Turkish villages have much smaller groups that average 200 members and are not subdivided at all. Yanomamo groups usually number under a hundred and frequent split up into small segments that do not retain any interrelationship with one another. These variant structural features of descent organization are significant for understanding how they assume meaning and function in the course of social life. We shall discuss four types of common descent groups: 1. lineages; 2. segments; 3. clans; and 4. moieties These structural features are represented among our case studies as follows: Culture Generation Depth 24 58 810 11+ Akan Segment Maximal lineage Clan Igbo Minor segment Major segment Maximal lineage Yanomamo Moiety Turkish Lineage While all unilineal descent groups can be considered lineages in a general sense, anthropologists give the term a limited technical meaning. A lineage, is a unilineal descent group whose members trace their descent from a common ancestor through a documented sequence of known linking antecedents. Validation of the genealogical facts of descent can be carried out in a number of ways. Often each individual will memorize his or her ancestry and recount it to his or her children. In some cases specialized institutions will arise to maintain ancestral records. The Malinke people of West Africa developed the role of the griot, a formally recognized oral historian. He was responsible for memorizing and recounting the full descent lines of indigenous royalty, nobility and other people of importance. The Akan developed similar roles for women genealogists, both as official royal historians and informal family experts. In ancient Israel written genealogies were maintained as is abundantly indicated in Chronicles I and II in the Old Testament. These records were consulted to validate or invalidate peoples’ claims to status. According, the New Testament opens with the account of a 42 generation genealogy for Jesus, linking him back through a straight patrilineal line to King David and eventually to Adam. The Yanomamo represent the other extreme in geneaological reckoning. They are forbidden to mention the names of dead ancestors, and, accordingly, genealogical connections are lost with the disappearance of each generation. Even in the best of circumstances, the accuracy of descent pronouncements is questionable, even more so when they entail access to position, wealth, and power. Often the process of “telescoping” will occur, in which one or more actual ancestors will become forgotten so that “fathers” and “sons” in a genealogy may have in reality been several generations removed. (As a rule of thumb, any genealogy over 12 generations will contain such missing links.) At other times anomalies, such as the incorporation of a woman’s children into a patrilineage, will be glossed over by changing a female ancestor into a male. More intentional changes will also be attempted when individuals or factions attempt to establish membership or change status within the group by fabricating an ancestor or pedigree. Thus the recounting of particular descent lines must often be understood as an idiom for documenting, challenging, or authenticating claims rather than as an accurate historical account. The biblical story of Noah and his sons provides an example of the mythological use of genealogy to underwrite political claims. Noah’s third son, alternatively identified as Canaan and Ham, the father of Canaan, is depicted as abusing his father after a drinking session. He is accordingly cursed to be a .slave of slaves’, as are his imputed descendants, the Canaanites, who constituted a servile caste in ancient Israel. This story was later reinterpreted to identify Africans as sons of Ham in an attempt to justify slavery in the United States. A final twist was added in the 19th century by the .hermitic hypothesis’, advanced by racial theorists to attribute SubSaharan historical advancements to Mediterranean invaders. Segments Lineages constructed on the basis of formal genealogies occur in various sizes according to their “generational depth,” ranging from small, shallow lineages made up of the descendants of a single living father, grandfather or greatgrandfather, spanning two to four generations, to extensive systems with histories of a dozen or more generations including thousands of members. In some cases, especially where there is substantial depth, larger units are subdivided into smaller components through a process of branching or segmentation. This arrangement involves the successive formation of smaller groups from parent lineages. Thus there is a single maximal lineage at the highest level of the system, which is divided into two or more branches or segments, which may be in turn divided and redivided in a regularly recurring process. The number of branches at each point of division depends upon the number of sons or daughters attributed to the previous ancestor. The number of levels is theoretically unlimited. Segmentary processes and structures can be illustrated in the following diagrams: Figure 7.8 Segmentary Descent Systems (no figure title only) Figure 7.9 Descent Lines Figure 7.10 Segmentation Figure 7.11 Group membership There are several classic ethnographic examples of segmentary lineage systems, including EvansPritchard studies of the Nuer and Paul Bohannon’s Tiv research. Among our case studies, this form is represented among the Igbo and Akan. Clans As with many technical anthropological terms, “clan” is loosely used in common speech to designate many different kinds of fundamental social units. The anthropological definition narrows the meaning to a unilineal descent group whose members do not trace genealogical links to a supposedly historical founding ancestor. Membership rights are simply derived from a father or mother. Clans are usually large groups that are associated with mythical ancestors, who are very often identified as animal species that are considered sacred to the group. They may occur within a complex structure in which they are either nested into larger groups or subdivided into smaller ones in the same fashion as segmentary lineages. Where they are subdivided, the component units are often lineages, as in the Akan case. Where they are grouped together, the more inclusive unit is called a phratry, which is in fact a type of clan. Moieties The moiety system is a more unusual form of unilineal descent and involves the occurrence of descent groups in linked pairs that assume complementary positions and functions. Each moiety (or half) of a pair will almost always be exogamous and take its husbands and wives exclusively from the matched group. This system is represented by the Yanomano. Their communities are composed of small, localized lineages, which settle in villages together with members of a matched moiety. Marriages are normally arranged between these paired units. Descent group functions Having described unilineal descent structures, we must now turn to the central issue of detailing and analyzing their functions and the importance they assume for their members and the wider social order in which they are incorporated. Descent groups, as well as many other kinship structures, function as primary groups, i.e., institutions that normally recruit personnel by the criterion of inherited status. In this capacity, the group’s unity and character reflect bonds formed upon common origin and identity and address the general welfare of the membership rather than a specific and intentionally defined objective. (This characteristic of kin groups illustrates Durkeim’s concept of mechanical solidarity). Accordingly, the range of responsibilities that descent groups organize is extensive, although the number and type of functions varies cross culturally. These include the major activities of economic, political, and religious life. In a general sense, the kinship unit often constitutes a corporate group which becomes a legal entity in itself and is assigned collective rights on behalf of its members and their estates. Functional analysis helps to explain the reason for which unilineal descent systems have played such an important part in the development of social organization. Two theories for the occurrence, one economic and the other political in emphasis, have been particularly convincing. The economic theory focuses on corporate land owning patterns. It maintains that individual tenure systems cannot allocate farmland in horticultural cultivation regimes, which depend upon long fallow periods and extensive land reserves. Since farmers are constantly taking plots out of production and seeking fresh land for new fields, private ownership is not practical. Their longterm resource needs are best met by relying on a communal unit to hold land in reserve for the group as a whole. Lineages provide just the right scale and continuity to coordinate these allocations at optimal efficiency. This argument is consistent with the analytical principles of cultural ecology. The political explanation focuses on the need for social order in stateless societies that lack centralized political systems with formal institutions of law enforcement. Under these conditions, strong and permanent alliances within and between large family based organizations are necessary to establish the sanctions needed to control disruptive behaviour among their members and to assist them when violence does occur. (This approach is associated with the structuralfunctionalist school.) Case studies Of the unilineal structures that we will investigate, the Akan and Igbo descent organization best conforms to the corporate group model, assuming the fullest range of functions. The Turkish village system exhibits the narrowest. Cultures Territorial Land Inheritance Marriage Social Political Feud Ritual Organization Ownership Regulation Control Represtation Support Observance Akan X X X X X X X Igbo X X X X X X X X Yanomamo X X X X Turkish X The Matrilineal Akan of Ghana The Akan are best known for their colorful kingdoms, which are located throughout the forest zone of southern Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The tropical environment has supplied them with valuable resources for both commercial cocoa farming, a recent economic innovation, and gold mining, which in former times supported regal opulence and pageantry. The Ashanti Empire, the largest and most powerful of the precolonial polities, owes its prominence to its location within the region’s richest goldfields. The traditional Akan kingdom remains an important national cultural and political force and is inseparably tied to the structures and functions of the matrilineal descent system that forms the foundation for the social order. The Akan have a multitiered, segmentary structure consisting of matrilineal clans, and major matrilineages divided into lineage segments. The clans number eight in total and are not localized. They include members throughout all the kingdoms. Their origins are attributed to mythical ancestors, and no attempt is made to trace descent lines to the group’s founders. They assume little importance in the lives of their members, beyond creating a context for friendship among fellow clanspeople from distant localities, and, in this sense, they unite people across basic political divisions. They impose one firm rule: sexual relations or marriage between members of the same clan is prohibited. The lineage system is more coherently and complexly structured. At the top of the system, maximal lineages (abusua) assume the form of localized groups that make up the Akan town (kuro), a nucleated settlement of sometimes as many as several thousand inhabitants, which occupies the lowest administrative level of the indigenous territorial and political system. Each town is composed of 5 to 8 matrilineages, which occupy separate residential quarters within the settlement. The maximal lineages are established on the basis of common matrilineal descent from a known female ancestor traced back through approximately 10 generations. They are subdivided into segments, sometime called “houses,” each of which stems from a daughter of the founding lineage ancestress. Figure 7.12 Akan Lineage Organization Segments are ranked according genealogical seniority, according to the birth order of these offspring of the founders. As well as forming a coherent neighborhood, the maximal lineage constitutes a fundamental corporate group with religious, political, economic, and other social functions. The lineage organization is defined and sanctioned primarily through the religious belief and ritual system that centers on ancestor worship. While the descent groupings are formed according to links through females, ritual observance focuses on the spirits of deceased male members incarnated in carved wooden stools. During a man’s assumption of full social maturity, he purchases a stool, which is considered his exclusive possession and an extension of his personality. Upon his death, this object is placed in a special room that serves as a common repository for the lineage as a whole. Every 6 weeks, special adae ceremonies are held. The family’s stools are removed and offered sacrifices of liquor, domestic animals, and other foods to propitiate the ancestral spirits, whose blessings are necessary for the welfare of their progeny. Adae ceremonies and annual odwira celebrations are also held for the stools of political officials,— chiefs, kings, and queen mothers—and form major occasions for public religious worship. The Ashanti have added another element to this ritual system in the form of the golden stool, which represents the abstract spirit of the whole nation rather of a particular historical ancestor. Similar observances and sacrifices are held during funerals, rites of passage at which the living lineage members pass on to the next stage in a cycle which includes the living, the dead, and the yettobe born, as the deceased will eventually be reincarnated within the same matriline. The religious belief structure and the concrete representation of matrilineages and other social groupings as ancestral relics establish the rationale for assigning important corporate rights in statuses, land, and people. Lineages also serve as the basic units of political participation and control. Each town forms the bottom layer of a multilevel administrative hierarchy and is locally ruled and represented by a chief (ohene) in cooperation with a town council. Official positions on the municipal governing body are allocated to all the maximal lineages in the settlement, each of which independently selects one or sometimes two representatives from among its members. Chiefs and coreigning queen mothers are chosen from the royal lineage, which asserts precedence on the basis of first settlement, but the council is consulted on the choice of a successor and can institute .destoolings’s, i.e., impeachment proceedings. There are no fixed rules of succession, but titled political positions within a lineage’s control are sometimes retained within the senior segment of the lineage. Among some Akan groups, offices are alternatively rotated among lineage segments to ensure equitable participation in the political process. (See Schwimmer 1976 for a discussion of the occurrence of seniority and rotation in the formation of new settlements.) In addition to selecting municipal representatives, local matrilineages are also organized under internal leaders, who manage the considerable assets, activities, and responsibilities of the group. Each lineage is subject to the authority of a family elder (abusua panyin), who consults with his peers to make and carry out decisions affecting economic, political, and ritual matters and to settle internal disputes. He is assisted by a female counterpart, who has a special responsibility for the lineage’s women and also acts as an advisor and the official authority on family history, a critical element in assigning rights and statuses. Succession to leadership is determined by genealogical seniority within the group and is assigned to a man or woman who must be: 1. of the oldest generation that has living members, 2. in the senior segment that still has members in generation 1, 3. the eldest person of the appropriate gender in the segment identified in 2. (This information is based on my own fieldwork among an Akwapim group. Fortes (1950) maintains, from Ashanti data, that the abusua panyin and oba panyin are elected from the lineage at large.) Economic functions of the lineage focus on land ownership, which is invested in the ancestors and, on their behalf, the abusua panyin as a trustee for the group. Accordingly, land cannot be sold or otherwise permanently alienated. Actual distribution of farm plots for agricultural use is assigned to lineage segments, which are responsible for daytoday concerns. Individual tenure and farm management is left to household heads, who are usually men and often work the soil with the assistance of wives and children. The planted crops and any income they yield are considered individual property and can be given to household members whether or not they belong to the lineage that owns the land. (Wives and children are of course not members of the household head’s matrilineage.) In the traditional system this multiplicity of rights in land and its products were of little consequence, since cash incomes were negligible and plots were used only for two or three years within a long fallow regime. Cocoa farming has complicated the balance of rights because of the substantial cash value of the crop and because tree plantations involve permanent land use. Thus the matrilineage, or “family,” (usually the segment) can claim a cocoa farm located on its land but the farmer’s wives and children can exert a counter claim because of the labor they have invested in planting and maintenance. In cases of conflict, property is usually divided to compensate both sets of interests. Matrilineal inheritance and succession among the Akan is usually formulated in terms of the transfer of property and status from mother’s brothers to sister’s sons. However, generational seniority imposes a complication and dictates that property must first pass successively through a group of brothers and can descend to sisters’ sons only after all the males within a generation have died. Sisters usually cannot inherit a man’s property but can be heir to their sons if they or their sisters have no other male children. Women’s property, however, is allocated to other women, i.e., sisters and daughters in that order of precedence, and is awarded to men only if there are no female heirs. The traditional inheritance system of course excluded direct transfer of family property to wives and children. Responsibility for these dependents was assumed by the heir, usually through levirate marriage. In recent times opportunities for accumulating savings and property without the assistance of lineage has allowed men to provide for wives and children through gifts and oral or written wills The matrilineage exercises corporate rights over its individual members as well as its property. The most frequent imposition of collective interests in persons involves the control of marriages and the donation and receipt of bride wealth. Descent groups are strictly exogamous and all sexual contact between members is forbidden within the segment, maximal lineage, and wider clan. Among other implications, these stipulations support arranged marriages that initiate or perpetuate alliances between descent groups, usually within the town, which is predominantly endogamous. Lineage leaders manage the alliance system though both insistence on crosscousin marriage rules and control of the financial resources and negotiations involved in bride wealth transactions. (We will discuss these marital institutions more fully in the next unit.) The various functions, rights, and responsibilities assigned to matrilineal structures make their strength and continuity essential for the welfare of their members and the integrity of the wider social order. Economic and demographic uncertainties, however, can threaten the stability of the individual descent lines and of the whole system. Very real problems emerge if a lineage has few daughters through whom the line can continue. Gender ratio imbalances can be addressed through a number of social mechanisms involving the simple practice of adopting new members, which usually occurs within minor segments, and a more intricate pattern of slave marriage. In precolonial times the Akan had developed an institutionalized form of slavery, which may have been in part intensified by their participation in the transcontinental slave trade. The practice focused on domestic slavery, through which individual bondsmen became incorporated into their masters= households and were granted fairly extensive privileges, including inheritance rights and the right to marry nonslaves. If a woman married a male slave, her children became incorporated into her lineage through the normal application of the matrilineal descent rule. If a man married a female slave or otherwise had children by her, the offspring had no automatic lineage status. However, they could be granted membership in their father’s lineage. In the event that a man had no entitled heirs among the free members of his matrilineage, a slave son could inherit matrilineal property and pass it on to his sister’s children, who would form a new line of continuity. (Ironically, a man could pass matrilineal property on to a “slave child,” but not to a son of free status.) Frequent recourse to this practice has resulted in the presence of several “attached” segments within maximal lineages, whose origins are usually overlooked to avoid embarrassment. Interestingly, an exact mirror image of this pattern is described in the Old Testament to deal with the corresponding problem in patrilineal Hebrew society, the continuity of a line in which only daughters are born (I Chronicles 2:35). The Patrilineal Igbo of Nigeria Igbo descent organization is based on a segmentary patrilineal system, which, like the Akan system, involves the development of localized corporate lineages. The core members of a patrilineage, descended from a male ancestor within eight to ten generations form the basic descent group. They inhabit a single territory involving a settled village, or in some cases interlinked dispersed farmsteads, and the adjoining agricultural land. In many cases a single lineage will form the bulk of the settlement’s inhabitants, but several separate lineages may sometimes join to form a single local group. Villages are more widely integrated into a larger territorial unit, the village group through a series of alliances, common institutions, and joint activities. In some cases, this broader unity is underwritten by a claim that the component lineages are all descended from a remote common ancestor. Figure 7.13 The Igbo Lineage system Within the village, the lineages are further subdivided into major segments (Uchendu calls these sublineages), which are in turn subdivided into minor segments the minimal units of the system. This branching is reflected in the village’s spatial layout. The major segments occupy contiguous wards within the village. The minor ones assume the form of compounds, the basic domestic units. Compounds are also complexly subdivided, but according to patterns of marriage and residence rather than to those of descent. We shall consider these features in subsequent chapters. In effect, the lineage functions are organized at two major levels in a pattern very similar to the Akan system. The maximal lineage assumes mainly symbolic and ritual importance. It also plays an important role in the marriage system, insofar as people of the same lineage, and, accordingly, from the same village, are forbidden to marry or to engage in any sexual activity. The more important activities are organized at the major segment and compound level. The major segment is designated as the umunna, literally a group of people descended from the same father, but not of the same mother. It occupies a section of the village and owns common lands, which it allocates to its members for housing and farming. It is led by a formal lineage, the okpara, who is usually its senior member, i.e., the oldest male of the oldest branch of the lineage. His office derives from the ritual importance of his ownership of a sacred staff, the ofo, and his role as an intermediary for both the group’s ancestral spirits and the earth goddess. He is also the ummunna’s political leader and its representative to the village’s governing council. In both instances, the okpara’s power is quite restricted because collective pronouncements are never fully binding and decision making and administrative actions must follow democratic principles. The compound, or ezi, is a branch of the ummunna, and has parallel ritual, economic, and political functions. The compound head, the obi, makes sacrifices to more immediate ancestors, allocates land near the compound that is used for kitchen gardens, and settle disputes among family members. His activities and decisions must be guided by consultation with his constituents, especially with the heads of the smaller domestic groups that make up the unit. He receives an important perk of office through rights to one day per week of work from his dependents. According to the rule of patrilineal inheritance, people normally acquire membership in these various descent groups through their fathers. However, the Igbo system involves an interesting quirk that sometimes allow for descent to pass through a woman rather than a man. The kinship status and identity of a child is established as a consequence of the fact that his or her father has paid a sizable bride price to his wife’s family during the arrangement of the marriage. If a child is born out of wedlock, and thus without the appropriate compensation, then he or she becomes a member of the mother’s patrilineage. Furthermore, in the Igbo system of “woman marriage,” a woman can pay a bride price and acquire a wife in her own account. In this case, the female “husband” will be considered the sociological father of any children that her “wife” gives birth to and they will thus belong to the “husband’s” patrilineage. The biological father, who has not provided any marriage payment, will have no formal status in relation to his offspring. In addition to group membership, patrilineal descent controls the course of succession and inheritance. When a man who holds an office, such as okpara or obi dies, his status is passed on to his most senior relative within the relevant subdivision, usually a brother or cousin rather than a son. The heir will not only take on the title of the deceased, but will also assume access to or control over any corporate property, such as land, that was associated with the deceased. He will also be entitled to inherit the dead man’s widows, who he may decide to marry or allocate to other members of the patrilineage. Other than the transfer of family assets, inheritance of personally acquired property, such as crops in the field or trading wealth, will pass on from father to son, usually to the eldest son, who will also assume responsibility for caring for his younger brothers. If siblings cannot cooperate under fraternal leadership, the inheritance can be subdivided. In this case sharing usually is carried out according to number of wives a man has; each group of full brothers receives an equal amount, which is initially placed under the control of the oldest brother in each group. Women do not normally inherit within their families of origin or from their husbands, except to the extent that they can expect to be maintained by their husbands’ heirs. They can acquire wealth and assets in their own right, which, as personal property, will go to their children. If they are childless, they have the option of produce heirs through “woman marriages.” If they do not follow this option, their husbands will inherit. While the umunna constitutes the major field for social identification and participation in Igbo society, other institutions also form essential elements in the social order. Some of these, such as the age and title associations are not kinship based and will be discussed in the next module. Others, such as a person’s relations with his or her mother’s relatives, the umunne, are closely integrated into the kinship system. In spite of a patrilineal emphasis, the Igbo have developed a special set of relationships with maternal kin that is sometime called “complementary filiation.” Through this institution, patrilineally organized people are considered to have special rights in their mothers’ families of origin, including several that they do not receive in their own descent groups. Thus, the course of an Igbo’s life is marked by continual visits with his or her mother’s kin, who, because of the rule of lineage and village exogamy, must always reside in a different settlement. Short stays may be organized for a variety of reasons. Longer ones, lasting for several years, will occur because of a commission of a crime or involvement in a serious dispute in a person’s natal village. During such visits, the guest expects to receive warm hospitality and affectionate and indulgent treatment. He or she will also engage in relaxed interactions, which can involve practical jokes and ribald discussions that would be quite inappropriate in normal contexts. Such joking relationships and the designation of joking kin have been observed in many societies, and we shall investigate a similar, although differently patterned, custom among the Ju/’hoansi later in this unit. The specific focus on maternal kin for the Igbo has generally been observed in other patrilineal societies. This practice has been labeled the avunculate and has been explained as a way of counterbalancing the heavy weight of formal and sometimes highly stressful relationships among agnatic kin (RadcliffeBrown 1954). Note that this institution does not indicate an element of matrilineality, which is in fact present in a few Igbo groups. The mother’s relatives in this instance are members of a person’s mother’s patrilineage and do not form a matrilineal group in any sense. In general we have emphasized a very close connection between the formation of patrilineal groups and delimited territories. We should note, however, that this arrangement is relevant mainly to male participation. Because of the rule of local exogamy most adult women will live away from their natal groups among other members of their sex from a diverse set of patrilineages. In some cases, however, they will form a complex set of complementary groups based on both locality and descent. On the basis of locality, all of the married women within a village will often form a group with well defined and important functions that include religious rites, judicial deliberations, and entertainment, mostly in the form of dancing. They may also organize to represent their specific gender interests. For example, in a ground breaking study of Igbo women, Margaret Green, observed that gender conflict was regularly instigated when domestic animals, usually owned by men, foraged on crops in the field, usually planted and tended by women. Often the woman would successfully organize and petition for the establishment of local laws that would permit the confiscation (and consumption) of errant goats or pigs. Their major weapon was a collective boycott on domestic tasks and responsibilities (Green 1964:178216). Aside from villagebased groups, women also organize on a patrilineal basis, and as such according to their villages of origin. Green recorded a highly formalized arrangement for set of communities in which wives married away from home formed a spatially defuse organization of women from the same place of origin. These groups were called mikiri after the English word meeting and were loosely based on urban “improvement unions” that migrant Igbo’s formed in many of Nigeria’s large cities. Their members would set up visits on a monthly basis that would occur in a circuit of villages in which the mikiri’s members had married. Functions focused on mutual sociability and aid. Authority and other prerogatives, such as sharing, were generally allocated on the basis of the relative seniority of the lineage segments of the participating women (Green 1964:217232). While gender organization on the village and intervillage level seems somewhat modest, it indicates a substantial importance of collective identity, mobilization, and action that has had a wider impact on Nigerian politics. Igbo women assumed a major role in the colonial history of Nigeria, when they mounted the Woman’s War of 1929. This mass movement involved major boycotts and demonstrations on a regional front to resist British attempts to include women in a census that was considered to be a preparatory step to demanding that they pay head taxes. The Yanomamo of the Amazon Forest Like the Igbo, the Yanomamo are organized into named localized lineage groupings on the basis of patrilineal descent. However, lineage groups are quite shallow, seldom extending beyond two adult generations, and small, seldom reaching as many as 100 members. Group dimensions are limited by the frequent segmentation and territorial relocation of lineage branches because of internal conflicts, usually over women. Genealogical connections between separate segments are not normally recognized, a pattern which is maintained by a social taboo on recounting the names of the dead. Neighboring settlements form alliances involving various exchanges and cooperative activities in warfare, which was endemic in traditional society. These consolidations are often short lived and divided into warring factions that are continually seeking out new allies. As such, no permanent unit beyond the village, such as the Igbo village group, is present, and settlements as such possess limited stability and continuity. Beside fostering mutual cooperation and support among their members, Yanomamo lineages function as territorial units, inhabiting a common settlement, and as elements of a marriage exchange and alliance system. They are exogamous and also consult jointly in the selection of marriage partners for their male and female members. The marriage system also acts to construct regular relationships between pairs of lineages who regularly intermarry through a system of exchange marriage that we will examine more fully in unit 3 of this module. Intermarrying units tend to pair off and exclusively occupy the same village, thereby generating a moiety system. Figure 7.14 Yanomao Moiety System Members from other lineages may als
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