Chapter 2 (p.5)


Summary: We find then, five major categories of Tale corporations, the minimal lineages, nuclear lineages, intermediate lineages, sections, and maximal lineages; the quasi-corporations of clans, and the somewhat larger scale ritual interlinkages. For each of the Tale corporations, that is, up to and including maximal lineages, the central rule applies:

Each segment has its focus of unity, and an index of its corporate identity, in the ancestor by reference to whom it is differentiated from other segments of the same order in the hierarchically organized set of lineages. Sacrifices to the shrine of this ancestor require the presence of representatives of every segment of the next lower order; and this rule applies to all corporate action of a ceremonial or jural kind of any lineage. This is the fundamental rule of the lineage organization. (1945, p. 31)

The ancestor who has formal authority over the segment, and who is of prime importance is the one who marks its differentiation; this ancestor is thus emblematic of the segment's social particularities:

The Tallensi see the binding force of any observance held by the lineage or clan as deriving from an ancestor whose edict it is said to have been. (1945, p. 122)

How pervasive the significance of lineage-based corporations is among the Tallensi may be seen in the fact that when Fortes studied the Tallensi there were,

as yet, no communities in Taleland consisting of aggregations of individuals or families of completely heterogeneous cultural or genealogical origin, whose sole common interest in the locality they occupy is utilitarian, and whose sole bond with one another is their common subjection to a single political authority. (1945, p. 171)

Further, as we have seen, not only are there no communities not given form by the lineage organization, but there are no lineage segments not internally differentiated on the same lines as they themselves are constituted. As Fortes notes:

A lineage of any span emerges in any of its activities as a system of aliquot parts, not as a mere collection of individuals of common ancestry. (1945, p. 31)

In the case especially of lineages at the intermediate levels or below, external solidarity and unity belies internal differentiation not only into smaller corporate units, but into social individuals, with their particular relations with each other:

A person's membership of the lineage emerges in its corporate activities as a unit of social structure; common interests and concerns prevail and the individual counts only as a component of the group. It is as a corporate unit that the lineage has its ritual focus in the lineage bo ±ar. (1945, p. 136)


Within the lineage the social personality of the individual is an important factor of his behaviour and of the behaviour of others towards him. Sex, age, and status are significant. In relations between lineages the social personality of the individual fades into the background. It is submerged in the corporate unity of the lineage. (p. 137)

Of course, although the social individual fades, he does not quite disappear. Inter-lineage relations are influenced, for example, by just who constitutes the point of contact between them.

A note on the Namoo/Talis split is in order here. Fortes distinguishes these two groups in a number of places, but still ascribes an order of homogeneity to all of Taleland which has been questioned by some later writers (cf. Hart, 1974). For example, the Namoos, who had had a long-standing association with the Mamprussi kingdom had a system of 'chiefs' which made the British imposition of a hierarchy of native chiefs much less disruptive for them than it was for the Talis (Hart, 1974, p. 7). Most of Fortes' comments on the Talis are also focused on the Hill Talis, which are only one set of a number of non-Namoo Tallensi. It is difficult to assess all the ramifications of the split. The Namoos of Mosuor Biis may be seen (and frequently are by Fortes) as being an extremely large and dispersed clan, which would make it the only clan of its type in Taleland (Fortes, 1945, p. 42). How much the analysis of Tale corporate groups would differ if information on the 'real Talis' and the Namoos could be kept more discrete is hard to say. What we must do here is simply offer a caveat, following Hart:

The division between Namoos (with their large, expanding unitary descent group) and the "real" Tallensi (with their small maximal lineages of curtailed generational span) hardly ever enters into the analysis of the developmental cycle of domestic groups in the Web of Kinship (1949); yet differences in population/resource trend for the two segments of Tale society were probably significant in the nineteenth century and their experience of British rule was in some ways dissimilar. We should keep in mind, therefore, that the bulk of Fortes' ethnography refers to the colonial period and to the Tongo Namoos among whom he did most of his fieldwork: these considerations may not be important for much of the micro-level analysis, but they have significant repercussions for the long-run macro-analysis. (1974, pp. 12-13)

Fortes in fact describes the Namoo/Talis split as being "the cleavage on which the whole politico-ritual system hinges ..." (1945, p. 234). He reports that prior to the imposition of British rule:

wars began between adjacent clans which were not united by direct of indirect ties of clanship, and then spread by mobilizing the opposing forces along the lines of structural interconnexions which we have described. This was a basic feature of warfare ... A general war therefore inevitably followed the line of major cleavage between the Namoos and the non-Namoos. (1945, p. 237)

There was, however, no general corporate organization among either the Talis or the Namoos which could focus either side as a whole for concerted warfare or unequivocal mutual defense. Ties of clanship linking opposing sides were observed even in warfare. Two linked clans would shoot at each other's allies, but not at each other (cf. 1945, p. 121).

This, then, is a brief picture of each of the types of corporation which acts in Tale social affairs.

Lineage, clan, and Bo ±ar congregation represent three interconnected levels of social relations and the ritual observances that correspond to them. This simplest level of this field system implies the existence of the simplest. (1945, p. 139)

A lineage segment emerges in action only as a relatively autonomous unit. Its activities is regulated by its relationship to other like segments of the lineage and to the whole. conversely, a lineage or lineage segment always functions as a combination of segments, not as a collection of individuals of common descent. (1949a, p. 7)

Political, Jural, and Ritual Positions

The primary formal positions in Tale society are those of father, headman, chief, tendaana, and along with the latter a number of subsidiary ritual functionaries of the same basic type. Fathers have authority over their families, and, through accession to positions held by their older brothers, their extended ('expanded' in Fortes' terminology) families. In other words their authority is over their descendants and classificatory descendants, as long as either of these are still ritually and jurally minors, and thus the dependants of the 'father'. Classifactory fatherhood in this sense, as we have seen, extends into the intermediate lineages. It ceases beyond that range to be recognized; indeed, whether or not classificatory fatherhood is recognized is a major demarcation of the 'range' (see 1949a, pp. 147-60). The authority of headmen is also a direct extension of the principle of agnatic descent, being vested in the genealogically senior position among the living members of each segment in the corporate hierarchy. There is no strict demarcation between 'fathers' and 'heads' of lineages. Very crudely, it has to do with the difference between authority over jural and ritual minors, vs. authority over men who themselves have the status of fathers. In order to distinguish the two further, we shall have to briefly consider the concept of seniority in the Tale lineage structure.

Seniority (kpemat) is defined by four criteria, singly or in combination according to the situation and the group involved. These are age, generation, social maturity, and status. A youth of 18 is always a 'child (bii)'; a man of 40 calls himself a 'child' if his father is still alive, but will be counted among the kpem if he is head of a nuclear lineage. A chief is always a kpeem irrespective of his age or generation. (1945, p. 225)

'Kpeem' may be translated as 'elder', but it is important to remember that it refers to more than age.

Used in the plural, 'elders' - the spam - refers not to all the lineage heads of Taleland, but to the head of a given lineage and his fellows of senior age and generation in that lineage. Thus there s one head, and there are several elders within any given lineage, and a given lineage is always the proper reference of discussion. The head is the kpeem, singular. In either case, 'seniority commands defences at all times." (1945, p. 224; but see Chapter 9 below for a discussion of Kopytoff's confusion of seniority and simple age). Within the intermediate lineages, rival claims to headships are argued in terms of the seniority. Thus, the supporters of one claimant may base their stand on an assertion of generational seniority, while their opponents argue that the lineage has spread genealogically to the point where generational differences do not hold (and presumably by implication are indeterminate) (1945, p. 225)

We shall take up succession and inheritance in greater detail in the next chapter, and further ramifications of the rule of seniority and its implications should become clear in the course of our discussion of the various positions. Since the fatherhood will be discussed in Chapter 4 under relationships, let us begin here with headmen.

Lineage Headmen:

In every maximal lineage (or among Mosuor biis, sub-clan) there is a hierarchy of lineage heads corresponding to the hierarchy of segments and the hierarchy of bo ±ar shrines. Obviously a particular lineage head may be head of several segments of different orders ... At the apex stands the head of the maximal lineage or sub-clan whose status practically always carries with it politico-ritual office. (1945, p. 225)

The identifying importance of the founding ancestor and the relation of his authority to that of the living headman may be seen in the fact that the lineage headship is conferred on the basis of inheritance of the founding ancestor's shrine, along with (up to the intermediate lineages) the patrimonial property of the lineage (p. 226).

Externally, in the relations of the lineage with other corporations, the head is its spokesman, its representative, and its focus of unity.

A lineage head represents the lineage. He is the pivot of its corporate unity. Everything he does as lineage head is for and on behalf of the lineage. (op. cit.)

This ability of the lineage head to represent the lineage is also the reason why he always consults and obtains the consent of the heads of all component segments. Indeed, all or most of the senior men of the lineage are usually present at any major activity where the head is acting on their behalf.

Thus it is common for the initiative and drive in corporate activities to come from younger men of intelligence and forceful personality, though they are carried out by, or in the name of, the lineage head. This is especially the case when, as often happens, lineage heads are old and infirm. (op. cit.)

In the internal affairs of the lineage, however, this authority is more variable, depending not only on his personal characteristics, but on the order of the lineage involved. Further, it must be remembered that the lineage's internal affairs include decisions as to the way it will represent itself in external affairs, the way in which it will allocate resources for bride price, or dispose of its daughters in marriage. Up to the lower range of intermediate lineages (but primarily only through the nuclear lineage) the headman has full formal authority over these and other jural and economic matters. He can, for example, control to a considerable extent the use of the patrimonial farm-land and the labour of his dependants. Beyond the nuclear lineage, the head's authority is attenuated, and at the upper range of the intermediate lineages it is purely 'moral and ritual'. At any level,

the degree to which he commands the loyalty of his lineage co-members depends considerably on his personality. They will always support him unhesitatingly where the common interests of the lineage are concerned, but they might not, in private matters, treat him with the confidence due to his status if he lacks tact or tries to be dictatorial. (1945, p. 226)

Presumably their confidence may also be enhanced through other resources than tact especially under colonial and post-colonial conditions where considerable variations in wealth are possible.

Headmen have a variety of functions in and responsibilities for, as well as authority over, their lineage segments.

Tallensi never undertake anything of importance - for instance, a marriage transaction or the building of a new shrine or making a new bush farm - without the knowledge of the other members of the medial lineage and without consulting or at least informing the head of their section or maximal lineage. The home of the lineage head is the centre of the social life of the lineage members and their families. (p. 227)

The lineage head may be asked to arbitrate in disputes within his lineage (primarily when they are between segments) and in such cases will usually attempt to bring about a compromise and reconciliation, especially since he has no powers (usually) of enforcing his decision. The head must also of course make appropriate sacrifices to the lineage bo ±ar, which is also of necessity the shrine of his paternal ancestors.

All interlineage jural and ritual transactions take place formally through the lineage heads. (p. 228)

Even in dying the head performs an important function in the life of the lineage, for his funeral involves significant ritual reunification, and frequently rearrangement, of the lineage. In some ways predictably enough however:

The kpeem's functions are most conspicuous in relation to the wives and children of the lineage, for they stand for the greatest common interest of the lineages. It is the reproductive powers of the wives and the existence of children that secure the perpetuation of the lineage and the immortality of the ancestors. (p. 229)

The authority of the headman thus is a series of progressively more attenuated versions of that of fathers, extending over ever broader ranges of population with the ascending order of the lineage of which he is the head. At the maximal lineage level, the headman is generally also the holder of a politico-ritual position, either connected with the cult of the Earth (tendaanas, most conspicuously) or with the various chiefships. We shall consider the former first, but some considerable cross-referencing will be necessary.

Tendaanas: Tendaanas are the senior ritual functionaries of what Fortes calls the 'cult of the Earth', and both they and the primary strength of the 'cult' are found in those maximal lineages (and clans) which claim descent from the autochthonous inhabitants of a region (Fortes, 1945, p. 7) (as opposed primarily to Namoos, op. cit. p. 20). In the native (i.e., pre-British) social order, both chiefs and tendaanas derived their primary authority from their positions as heads of maximal lineages, primarily through the medium of the ancestor cult, and in the case of tendaanas also the Earth cult (Fortes, 945, p. 227). Only the chiefs have, however, been incorporated into the colonial and post-colonial hierarchies. The positions, in the 'ethnographic present' of our discussion (the mid-nineteen thirties), are formally equal, and to some extent complementary as they link in larger level patterns of cooperation. Indeed, they figure complementarily in myths of origin (1945, p. 22 and pp. 58-9). The difference between them, aside from the denotation of differing (and differentially aligned, both politically and ritually) congregations seems largely to be one of emphasis, especially on the symbolic plane:

Broadly speaking, however, chiefship symbolizes the plexus of social relationships, based on lineage and kinship, which unites a defined group of people into a community, with land, locality, and the material earth. Chiefship and tendaanaship are ritual offices because the principles of social structure they stand for are so fundamental that they appear to the natives as axiomatic. (1945, p. 184)

Each tendaana has ritual jurisdiction over, is charged with guarding and 'prospering' a ten, a segment of the Earth (Ten).

Ten (pl. tes) is the native concept denoting a settlement; but no English translation can convey its exact sense. In some ways it is reminiscent of the deme of ancient Greece, a coalescence of local association lineage organization, common religious cult, and political solidarity. None of these factors serves to demarcate a ten absolutely from adjacent tes; all of them link together neighbouring tes or parts of tes as closely in respect of that one category of social relations as they unit segments of the same ten. A settlement is only a relatively autonomous community. One might perhaps define it as the region of maximum overlap of all the categories of social relations found among the Tallensi. (1945, p. 164)

These are thus no precise boundaries between tes, and the boundaries change with the vicissitudes of socio-political affairs. Further,

What is a ten in the sphere of secular relations may be, but often it is not, a ten in the system of religious beliefs. (p. 165)

Tendaanas vary in seniority within regions of linkined tes (p. 182), and may include several tengbana (Earth shrines), which also vary in status. this variation of seniority is within the range of 'brotherhood', however, as governed by the principle of the equivalence of siblings (1949, p. 242 and 1945, p. 185). The significance of all tendaanas as such, however, is primarily ritual. As senior lineage heads they also have a certain amount of weight of moral authority in political affairs, but as Fortes says, they are the "leaders and not the rulers, the fathers and not the princes" of their people (1945, p. 182), something which held true for chiefs as well before the institution of colonial rule. Primarily, however, the tendaana is responsible for the general mystical well-being of the ten, and for such specific matters as the consecration of land being put to new uses (1949, p. 45). The idea of jurisdiction is difficult to apply to the tendaanas. Tallensi suggest that just as the Earth is essentially one and indivisible, so there is a single institution of the tendaanaship; both are divided only temporarily, ad hoc and for practical purposes (cf. 1945, p. 185).

In principle, ten, the Earth, cannot be divided up; it is the tendaanaship which is distributed. (p. 186)

Fortes suggests (1945, p. 182-3) that the chiefship and tendaanaship have a polar relationship. This, I think is a bit questionable. For one thing, tendaanas and chiefs share many functions as the heads of maximal lineages. Further, their ritual roles are more matters of differing emphasis and differing populations than they are polar opposites. It is perhaps in the matter of populations that the two appear most polar as they accomplish, in their complementary roles, a unification of the autochthonous inhabitants with the later arrivals in any given area. Ideologically and synmbolically (with other referents) they seem closely related. It does not seem, for example, that one stands for the practical and utilitarian relation to nature while the other stands for the values of unity of men (Fortes, 1945, p. 183). Both seem very much to stand for the latter, at least.


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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