Chapter 2 (pt2)


The Nuclear Lineage: The nuclear lineage is the smallest Tale corporate group with significant stability over several generations. This is reflected in the patterns of land ownership. Fortes reports that the 'bulk' of farm-land is owned by nuclear lineages (1945, p. 178), ownership here meaning that land is acquired by right of inheritance with its distribution to the various males of the lineage being controlled by the head of the relevant segment(s). Although there is land thus owned by larger corporations, beyond the nuclear lineage the head's paternal control over the lineage farm land and his corresponding jural and ritual responsibilities for the junior members of the lineage are weak or absent. The heads of larger lineage segments have "purely moral and ritual" authority (1945, p. 226). Similarly, although by strict formal rules a man is not altogether autonomous until he has no more classificatory fathers within the range of the 'inner' lineage, in practice he is free of effective paternal control when he has no more fathers in the nuclear lineage (1949a, p. 157).

This solidarity of the nuclear lineage under common authority in jural affairs is reflected in a number of other matters in addition to inheritance. Marriage formalities are largely the concern of the nuclear lineage (along with the 'medial' lineage, 1945, p. 230; see also below) and the nuclear lineage is the widest range within which agnates do not incur debts by receiving services, gifts, or loans from one another (1949a, p. 214). This is also the widest range within which bonds between father's sister and brother's child (primarily bonds of sentiment whether classifactory or actual) are likely to be extended (1949a, p. 336).

Nuclear lineages are thus corporations of primary importance in a number of jural and economic activities. This is reflected most particularly in their control over the bulk of farm-land, the clearest item of inheritable property and thus a strong element in the social significance of the agnatic principle. Nonetheless, the nuclear lineage is not of sufficient order of span to be considered 'permanent', and lineage lands can indeed be parted through segmentation of the nuclear lineage into two or more new nuclear lineages, each with control over some part of the original patrimonial lands. This is, of course, a contradiction to both the established rule of descent and the dogma of the unchanging character of lineage organization, and requires a redefinition not only of interpersonal relations but of corporate groups and their rights with regard to succession and inheritance in the larger segment. This redefinition (to be discussed further below) centers on a fiction of generational equivalence, that is, an assertion that all nuclear lineages within the larger lineage gain their point of differentiation from 'siblings', men of the same generation. This is, of course, what is meant by their being of the same order.

Such processes of redefinition must take place relatively seldom, and indeed Fortes does not give any extensive information on them. Their occurrence, however, is enough in itself to point out that nuclear lineages are not in any sense 'permanent'. Thus, reading Fortes' discussion of the considerable significance of the nuclear lineage in land-holding, we may interpret his use of the term "permanent" to mean irrevocable:

Broadly speaking, then, every unit of farm land corresponds to a unit of social structure. More specifically, the elementary utilitarian unit of territory corresponds to the elementary unit of the social structure, and the relationship between them, summed up in the concept of ownership, is a permanent one. The history of a nuclear lineage is eo ipso the history of its farm-land. (1945, p. 180)

Now, while it is true, as Fortes goes on to say, that

Every change in the structure of the lineage implies a corresponding change in the distribution of the usufructory rights in its farm-land, ... (op cit.)

this does not make the relationship permanent, since the nuclear lineage itself is not permanent. The history of the nuclear lineage, which may indeed be seen in some sense in its distribution of farm-land, is one of growing strength and mitosis; after the split the original is gone. The relationship between lineage and land is, then, not permanent, but irrevocable. That is why only the dissolution of the corporate group ends its relationship to the land. I think this is in fact clear in Fortes' work take as a whole; it is the statement rather than the argument which is ambiguous. More to the point here, we may ask what Fortes is referring to as the "elementary utilitarian unit of territory" and what as the "elementary unit of the social structure", and whether the concept of ownership sums up any exact relationship between them, at least at the level of the nuclear lineage. It does not seem to do so. The context of the above quote does not indicate which units are "elementary", or indeed what is the larger unit of which we are considering the elements. I think it is fair to assume that in the first case the reference is to food production, while it is obvious that the other refers to the lineage system. Elsewhere, Fortes and Fortes have commented that

Food is produced and consumed by what we shall call the unit of food economy. (1936, p. 241)

This, they go on to indicate, corresponds usually to a single 'gateway', either to a compound or a segment of a compound well along in the series of stages of fission. Thus it is roughly equivalent to an effective (or almost effective) minimal lineage.

On an average, a single unit of food economy is dependent upon the labour of two men and comprises 1.4 households and two primary families. (1936, p. 244; see also p. 241, table.)

It is perfectly conceivable that one could consider this unit, approximating the minimal lineage, elementary to both the food-producing and social systems. However, this unit does not own land, necessarily. Its head controls most of its land, under three categories of control: some, he may have cultivated himself in the bush. This is his personal land and will pass to his sons on his death. Some may have been cleared by his close dependants or borrowed on their behalf from cognates, and is only under his (more or less) titulary control. The most important part, the lands he inherited, are owned by larger lineage segments, primarily the nuclear lineage, and on his death will pass into the control of the new head(s) of the segment(s) to which they belong. In the last case he may hold control, by a process of devolution, over lineage lands belonging to a segment of which he is not the head. This is the most frequent case with nuclear and higher order lineage land. In this case they may be inherited as if his, or redistributed by the segment head (as we shall consider below).

To struggle here with ways to solve this dilemma over ownership would be to anticipate our discussion of inheritance as part of the principle of agnatic decent. What is important here is to establish that the nuclear lineage is a unit of ownership (inheritance) of land, but not of land use. There is, for example, no cooperative farming organized on the basis of the nuclear lineage. It is land as property (like wives and debts) with which the members of a nuclear and inner and medial lineage are concerned in common.

The Inner Lineage: The inner lineage or segment corresponds according to Fortes to what is called by Tallensi the 'narrow dug'. Dug means room, a reference to the quarters of a wife in a patricentral house (yir), particularly within a polygamous household. In frequent usages in contraposition to yir, dug connotes the matrifocal differentiation of segments of a given order (assumed to be descended from the sons of different mothers) from their patrilineal unity in a segment of the next higher order. In this usage, there is a further connotation of the greater unity of the members of each dug with each other than with other members of the yir which includes them all. This is the connotation which appears most directly to give rise to the usage of the term here (and in the 'medial lineage' or wide dug). We shall discuss Fortes' description of what he calls the inner lineage now, considering its validity in the following section on the medial lineage. After this, however, both terms will be replaced by the common designation 'intermediate lineages'). There are a number of mutual responsibilities and bonds particularly having to do with the extension of kinship, which reach their widest application in the inner lineage. These seem to include the most distant extension (and even here it is attenuated) of the paternal authority of a segment head over the land and labour of his segment, in practical economic and jural affairs, though not in moral and ritual ones. This is further borne out in the Tale maxim "kinship does not cross the (inner) lineage" (1949a, p. 155) which means that classifactory fatherhood only applies within the inner lineage. The relevance of classifactory fatherhood is the extension of the jural and ritual authority of the father to his 'equivalent' siblings. Fortes notes a number of similar rules regarding the inner lineage:

Within the clan or maximal lineage it is a cardinal rule that generation differences are not recognized beyond the limits of the inner lineage. This is correlated with the structural relations of the inner lineage to lineage segments of higher order. The inner lineage is likely to be the widest segment with a common interest in patrimonial land. In relation to the clan or the maximal lineage it is usually the smallest recognized corporate segment, whose members are significant for the clan only as members of the segment. As will be remembered, it is also the unit within which sexual relations with a co-member's wife are definitely sinful. In short, the inner lineage (and the family cluster which is its residential and familial correlate) marks the limit beyond which a person takes part in corporate activities not in his own right and in his personal capacity but as a member of the segment. (1949a, p. 142)

The inner lineage is thus argued to be the furthest point at which, normally, corporate bonds are also interpersonal bonds.

The recognition of generation differences is crucial, especially for inheritance. Among other things this is because a classifactory father may be much younger than his 'son' (in the case, say, of the youngest son and oldest grandson, respectively, of a polygynous marriage). Beyond the range of the inner lineage, inheritance, according to Fortes, proceeds strictly according to age (1949a, p. 158). (See discussion of inheritance below) Disputes over the extension of classifactory fatherhood arise frequently in connection with the inheritance of widows and succession to the headship of the lineage, in Fortes' words:

the two situations in which consistency between the corporate unity of the inner lineage and the recognition of generation differences is most severely tested. (1949a, p. 157)

The inner lineage's internal solidarity and external corporate identity are combined in the degree of mutual identification of members which takes place. Its members are still fairly closely linked internally by interpersonal relationships, yet they have relatively few such relationships with other groups. Thus they are 'as one' to other groups. This may be demonstrated by an example of the role of inner lineages in cognatic kin relationships:

A man has no interest in or bonds with any of his sister's children's agnates except her children. They are not his kin through his sister. In theory he or his son can marry any of his sister's children's female agnates if they are not related to one another by another link. In practice such marriages with a woman member of the sister's husband's inner lineage are not countenanced. One objection is that the girl might be a proxy or classificatory daughter of the sister, which would make the marriage seem incestuous. A stronger objection is that such a marriage would amount to exchanging one woman for another. This the Tallensi disapprove of on the grounds that it must inevitably breed discord between the two lineages concerned. It is incongruous for the same lineages to be both sons-in-law and fathers-in-law to one another. You cannot, as the natives put it, both owe bride-price to and claim bride-price from the same man, or owe filial respects to and be entitled to filial respect from the same person. The objection does not hold outside the range of the sister's husband's inner lineage. (1949a, pp. 297-8)

This example serves to bear out the assertion that the inner lineage (or 'medial' lineage in other cases, 1949a, p. 28) is the largest corporation in which the members are personally identified with one another to this extent of classificatory interchange-ability. The density of interpersonal relationships within the inner (intermediate) lineage suggests that it is reasonable to view its basic unit of membership as being the individual adult male's social personality. Units of a higher order (sections and maximal lineages), however, have as their basic units of membership inner (intermediate) lineages. To be sure, the segmentary principle applies everywhere, and all but the smallest corporation are made up of smaller ones, so this distinction is not in any way absolute. It is supported, however, by Gluckman's (among others) comparative argument:

The upper half of the genealogies relates larger groups together - that is, these genealogical links define political or group relations, rather than interpersonal relations. (1968, p. 226)

It is further supported, I think, by the fact that while lower order corporations seem (we don't have a sufficient range of evidence to be more definite) to be generally divided into two segments, those above the inner lineage range have several segments or the next lower order incorporated into them. In Fortes' diagram of Ten-Puhug, for example, two effective minimal lineages (this notion seems least likely to apply to minimal lineages) are shown within a nuclear lineage, and in each case diagrammed (not all segments are represented in this diagram, drawn for other purposes) the construction proceeds two by two, up to the range of the inner lineage, of which Lebthiis biis has five, and the medial lineage, of which Puhug has four. Puhug itself is one of the four sections of Mosuor Biis (1945, p. 206).

Though this may imply that the inner lineage is a point of relative stability, it is not completely fixed. Inner lineages may, for example, grow to the point where they begin to advance claims to the status of 'medial' lineage when it comes to succeeding to the headship of a more inclusive lineage, and they may indeed be successful in their claims (1945, p. 247).


The Condition of a Static View-The Corporations-The Nuclear Lineage - The Inner Lineage - The Intermediate Lineages - The Maximal Lineage - Larger Collectivities - Summary - Political, Jural and Ritual Positions - Lineage Headmen - Tendaanas - Chiefs - A Note on Ancestors

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