Chapter 2 (pt.4)


The Maximal Lineage: The maximal lineage is a larger and even more stable agnatic kinship unit:

Every maximal lineage is continually expanding and pro-liberating through the fission of its minor segments. But though its span is thus continually increasing, its form does not alter. It has a fixed center and a fixed locus, we might say. In theory it always remains the same lineage, and new maximal lineages cannot arise through the splitting up of an existing maximal lineage. It is a unit of common agnatic descent, and no branch of it can ever repudiate this. A maximal lineae is also an exogamous unit, and no branch of it can contract out of this bond. (1945, p. 33)

The expansion which does occur within the maximal lineage is thus not structurally determined (at this level) but purely the result of population increase. Corresponding to this stability, maximal lineages have considerable autonomy:

Every corporate activity presumes the relative autonomy of the three maximal lineages [among the Talis, at Zubiun], in relation to one another. The unity of the clan is built upon the relative mutual independence of its segments. Common interests emerge as a balance of divergent emphases, and conversely the autonomous interest of the three constituent maximal lineages of the clan are aspects of the common interests of the whole clan. (1945, p. 81)

This autonomy is in some sense a variable, related to politico-ritual centers, as can be seen in Fortes' discussion of totems and ritual avoidances among the Talis and other non-Namoos:

these avoidances emphasize the relative autonomy of the maximal lineage in opposition to the coherence of the ideological community; and this is the more conspicuous the farther away from the centre a clan is located (1945, p. 140)

This 'centre' is marked by the External B ±ar, the broadest and most significant symbol o f religious unity among the Talis, and located in the geographical center, the Tong Hills (p. 139):

The cult of the Bo ±ar Bona'ab is the central force uniting this group of maximal lineages. It is, we must emphasize, not a permanent bond of union that operates at all times and under all conditions, but a synthesis that emerges chiefly in the context of the Great Festivals. During the Festivals their interdependence in the cult of the Bo ±ar imposes mutual amity and solidarity on this group of maximal lineages. At other times this is not always an effective sanction of amity and goodwill. For these ties of ritual collaboration are not homogeneous. Underneath them run other ties which reinforce them in the context of the Bo ±ar cult but might act against them outside of this context. (1945, p. 111)

We shall have more to say with regard to the Great Festivals in considering units of action beyond the clan, below. Even internally, however, maximal lineages have far from an absolute solidarity:

The corporate activities and common interests in which the unity and solidarity of a maximal lineage are manifested vary according to the range of segments they mobilize and the degree to which participation in them is obligatory. (1945, p. 217)

It is unclear, however, what Fortes means by saying

Maximal lineages are the smallest corporate units that emerge in political action. (1945, p. 103)

It would be a tenuous definition in any case, which did not consider the processes of segmentation and struggles over marriage, inheritance, and such at lower levels to be political. It is even more difficult to disregard relations at the section level, particularly where matters of succession are concerned. Section heads may occupy a number of important political and ritual offices, and there may be quite involved machinations concerning the succession. This, among other things is why, as Fortes notes:

The funeral of a section or maximal lineage head is of exceptional public interest. It marks the end of a phase of lineage history and the beginning of a new phase, involving realinements in the social relations of many people and probably of all segments of the clan. That is why every branch of the dead man's clan, representatives of related clans, and many matrilateral and sororal kinsmen come to take part in the funeral. (1949a, pp. 323-4)

Although lower order lineages are not, as corporations, 'apolitical', the maximal lineage is a centre of political struggles and rearrangements. Both the autonomy and the internal political operations of each maximal lineage are organized around a ritual office which is vested exclusively in the lineage concerned (1945, p. 89). Each maximal lineage has a set of clan ties which overlaps but is not congruent with the other maximal lineages of its clan. Thus any maximal lineage may play an intercalary role, as well as a direct one, in any particular political dispute. These ties of clanship run in series from one end of Taleland to the other and extend into neighbouring populations (1945, p. 90). This interlinking is enhanced by the fact that:

In spatial relations every maximal lineage belongs to one set of adjacent lineages in the Bo ±ar cult and to a different set of adjacent lineages in the Earth cult. (1945, p. 107)

Maximal lineages thus are primary corporate units in the pattern of linkages which constitutes the overall social field of Taleland. What is maximal about them is clear: they are the most inclusive agnatic lineage to which the descendants of a common ancestor can belong. Beyond the maximal lineage are the clans and the larger ritually collaborative organizations. These are significantly different in several ways, but particularly in that they are beyond the range of the basic calculus and ordering principle of the lineage system: the hierarchy of ancestors. This is behind the fact that clans have no central politico-ritual offices defining them as corporations. The primary chain of authority among living Tallensi stops with the maximal lineage, the last unit through which headmen are linked as such to the ancestors, the source of ultimate authority.

The Clans: Fortes uses clans in a somewhat idiosyncratic sense which has never fully taken hold in later anthropological work. In his descriptions of the Tallensi, clan refers to an intersection of lineage and territorial affiliations, with neither one fully identifying the boundaries of the clan:

The lineage system is the core of clanship, but not the whole of it. Lineally discrete groups are linked together by ties of clanship, so that the clan organization as a whole consists of a series of interlocked chains of linked maximal lineages. 91945, p. 45)

In most cases clan ties include putative common ancestry, although not through a known genealogy. In some cases, however, there is no claim of convergent ancestry (1945, p. 56). Agnatic bonds are assumed, though, and the rule of exogamy always applies to clan membership.

We may define a clan, then, as a set of locally united lineages, each of which is linked with all or most of the others by ties of clanship, which act together in the service of certain common interests indicated by the bond of exogamy, by reciprocal rights and duties in events such as the funeral of a member of anyone of them, and by the ban on intestine war or fued; and which act as a corporate unit in respect of these common interests in relation to other such units. We must stress the point that the clan, as here defined, is a local unit, occupying a specified locality from which it takes its name. (1945, p. 62)

It should be emphasized, however, that clans are not corporately defined in terms of ancestors, as are lineages. They thus have not the same clarity of formal boundaries:

A clan is the region where the fields of clanship of two or more lineages have the maximum overlap, and a chain of linked clans can be resolved into a series of overlapping fields of clanship of varying dimensions. The clan is also the region where a lineage's clanship ties have the maximum force. (1945, pp. 63-4)

There are also fictive clansmen, who cooperate in the 'exoteric' (e.g. farm labour) but not 'esoteric' (ritual) aspects of clanship (1945, p. 71). Such fictive clanship ties generally correspond to a spatial proximity which is not reinforced by lineage integration into any of the appropriate maximal lineages. This somewhat varying 'field' character of clanship further accentuates the relative autonomy of the maximal lineages. While

spatial distance and genealogical distance are the main factors upon which the incidence and variation of the rights and duties of clanship depend (1945, p. 64),

the rights and duties of maximal lineages are more strictly defined. In particular, the autonomy of each maximal lineage, and its corporate significance for its members, are organized around the politico-ritual office which is its exclusive prerogative (1945, p. 89). The External Bo ±ar provides a certain amount of symbolic unity to the clan organization, but no single office or other center or point of differentiation (as, for instance, an ancestor would). Though the broad levels of ancestral identification (such as the Bo ±ar) command considerable moral authority, it is important that this is non specific:

The social bonds of clanship, like those of the lineage, derive their validity from the ancestors. But it is now not a question of a particular known line of ancestry, but of the ancestors in general; and among the Hill Talis these are associated with the External Bo ±ar. The external Bo ±ar is an elaboration of the lineage bo ±ar, parallel to the elaboration of the lineage structure into the structure of the clan and the network of clanship. It is the seat of all the ancestors of the clan and lineages that make up its congregation. (1945, p. 137)

Actually, it is interesting to note that elsewhere, Fortes says that the lineage Bo ±ar is derived from the External Bo ±ar:

Each maximal lineage has its private lineage b ar (dugni bo ±ar), the shrine of its particular lineage ancestors, worshipped only by members of that lineage, and the dugni bo ±ar is conceived as itself a part of, or a derivative of, the clan Bo ±ar ... (1945, p. 81)

Maximal lineages among the hill Talis generally have two bo ±ar, one of which is a domestic representative of the External Bo ±ar, while the other is distinctive, being derived from their founder's mother's lineage (1949a, p. 330). In any event, no matter how strong the moral sanctions towards clan solidarity may be, clans do not have the same corporate identity as even the largest lineages. This is correlated with the diminution of both the density and the strength of the bonds uniting clansmen as such:

there are, in fact, no person-to-person social relations between individuals who are only clan-siblings of the same quality as sibling relations in the narrow sense. Their solidarity is a consequence of the general solidarity of the clan in situations affecting the common interest. Thus clan-brothers have no property relations qua clansmen. (1949a, p. 268)

It is significant that this 'narrow sense' applies primarily to relations up to the order of what we have called the intermediate lineages (inner and medial lineages in Fortes' terms). Further, linked maximal lineages "have no bonds with the clan as a whole, but only with the relatively autonomous segments of the clan." (1945, p. 102). Thus in two important ways, we see the corporate identity of clans to be ambiguous.

Clans do however come together for collective (whether or not corporate) action on various occasions, particularly connected with the External Bo ±ar. These occasions do not each involve all clan members, but frequently do involve large numbers, and always a representative of each maximal lineage within the clan. There are then a number of bonds which identify clansmen with each other. In varying degrees of significance (and actual application) these include the ritual collaborations we have just noted, the rule of exogamy, the practice of the levirate, a prohibition against abducting the wives of fellow members, and against internal warfare. The effectiveness of these rules in practice of course depends on the solidarity of the clan at whatever range they come into issue, and this is a matter both of density and intensity of inter-personal relations among members, and of the inter-relations of its component corporate groups.

Larger Collectivities: If the corporate status of clans is ambiguous, then it would be still more questionable to refer to the various larger collectivities which function in various situations as corporations. They are, however, not simply aggregates of interpersonal relations, for they have some degree of external identification. Of some of them Fortes says:

Somewhere between clanship and potential enmity come two other kinds of ties belonging to the same class of structural relations as clanship and generally accounted for as arising out of some form of kinship. (1945, p. 91)

These are joking partnerships, which "lie on the border between two zones" (p. 92), and privileged moral coercion, which obtains between marginal groups not bound by joking relationships. Both of these are limited to the Talis, not extant among Namoos (pp. 91-96).

As we know, Tallensi clans are linked to adjacent clans in series, forming ever broader but less integrated fields of clanship, overlapping but not congruent with those of their neighbours. Similarly, each clan has a field of ritual relations which overlap with but are not congruent with its field of clanship ties (1945, p. 103). Within this field,

the installation of a ritual functionary in his office is always the privilege of another functionary of the same congregation, or of a neighbouring congregation. The effect of this is to maintain particularly close bonds of interdependence and mutual amity between pairs of class or maximal lineages and thus to strengthen the force of ritual collaboration as a sanction of mutual loyalty and cohesion. (1945, p. 105)

The other major focus for this larger level of integration is the series of Great Festivals. Though these do not create a corporate group which acts together for any other purposes, they require collaboration themselves, and so act to promote wider integration, both through the political cooperation necessary to this collaboration, and through their moral sanction:

In the rites of the Great Festivals the widest community that has social relevance for any Talen emerges, not as a hard-and-fast political unit, but as a temporary synthesis of all the forces of social integration operative in Tale society. This is an expression of the fact that, though they have no centralized government, the Tallensi do form a single body politic, albeit one without defined territorial boundaries. This unit is built up on the widely ramifying structural ties which knit the independent corporate units together. But its ultimate basis is a body of moral and jural norms and values accepted as binding by all Tallensi, and defended from the disruptive action of conflicting sectional interests by the most solemn ritual sanctions of Tale religion. (1945, p. 115)


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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