Chapter 3 (pt.1)



The Extent of Agnatic Bonds


Representation and Collective Responsibility

Cooperative Action

Fission and Fusion


Social Maturity and the Domestic Family

Matrifocal Identification and Matrilateral Kinship

Economic and Demographic Pressures


Constructing the Corporations

The Salience of Ancestors<

In the last chapter we explored the static view of the corporate structure of Tale society. Bearing this picture in mind, let us now turn our attention to the rules and procedures by which the corporations are constructed. We are still concerned with the macro-sociological view of Tale society; it is not strictly the units of our study which are different, but our perspective. Where before we looked at corporations as formal collectivities, and were concerned with the nature of each, and the formal positions which each engendered, here we shall view these same corporations as the product of a set of rules and pressures. There is no suggestion that we shall answer any chicken and egg question regarding the temporal or logical primacy of corporations as groups vs. as rules. We shall simply look at both aspects. Our emphasis will be on the rules which operate internally to the social frame. At some points it will be necessary to look at their conjunction with other determinant factors of events, such as demographic exigencies. Although there can be no doubt that Tale social organization forms in some sense an adaptation to such extra-structural factor as the local ecology, it is less clear that there is, without a great deal more specific and carefully analysed data, any reason to regard this as more than a statement of identity: existence equals adaptation. The Tale social order exists, external conditions exist, ergi, etc. We shall take up such external factors only where they can be shown to act in the same way as a structural rule in the construction of the social order. In other words, we are primarily concerned with the working of Tale social organization, not with its origins.

By 'rules' we shall understand as out topic both such recognized prescriptions and prescriptions as rules of inheritance and exogamy, and such normative processes as the rule of matrilateral fission within the patrilineal family. We are concerned not just with regularities, but with the factors which regulate them. We are concerned with both of the aspects which Fortes notes when he says that the individual

cannot connect the rules and conditions that govern his own social behaviour with the general principles of Tale social structure. (1945. p. 116)

The influence of the principles of agnatic descent is pervasive in Tale social order. It governs or partially determines most of the important processes and events in both the quotidian and long-range organizations of the Tallensi. Perhaps above all else its influence is seen to be in the rules of inheritance and membership. Most heritable property and all corporate group memberships come to individuals by virtue of their statuses within the ongoing system of agnatic descent. Accordingly, before we take up the various extensions of agnatic bonds synchronically to collectivities, let us look at the rules which govern inheritance, with its sub-categories of membership and succession.

Inheritance: The basic rule of inheritance is that it follows the lineage line in order of seniority by generation or age Fortes, (1949a, p. 158) Generation is the rule of the first instance; wherever differences of generation are recognized (i.e., up to the intermediate lineages, see Chapter 2) inheritance passes from fathers to sons (whether these are classificatory or 'own' fathers and sons). I the higher order lineages, where these distinctions do not obtain, fellow lineage members construe all their relations as those of brothers. It should be remembered that as such orders of lineage organization, all 'members', that is all men who are ritually and jurally adults, are seniors ('kpam') and have no classificatory fathers alive within at least the lower ranges of their intermediate lineages. Thus the rule of inheritance by age at this level does not contradict, but merely substitutes for, the rule of inheritance by generation. These are the two primary traditional qualifications for, or criteria of seniority in any circumstance. It is apparent that where reckoning of seniority takes place by age, reference to separate criteria are necessary to establish the boundaries of the group concerned. Since all that is inherited at this level are the various politico-ritual offices, not property, we may assume that the definition of corporate boundaries is both frequently at issue, and one of the major topics, foci, of the succession process itself. We shall consider this problem in more detail below, but first let us turn our attention to the more specific rules which are used to determine group membership and inheritance at lower levels.

First off, we may note that there are essentially two types of inheritance within Tale agnatic descent: inheritance between fathers and sons, and between brothers. The primary significance of seniority by generation means that inheritance (or succession) may be seen as passing from a father (classificatory or own) to his eldest son in the first instance, and then in age order to all the 'sons' of the father whose property this was (at a range depending on the generation at which the property was acquired, as we shall see). When the property reaches the last of these 'sons', it will pass from him, as a father, to his eldest 'son'. This last son will frequently be a classificatory son much older than the own sons of the last 'father'. There are further qualifications to this pattern, however:

Since a 'son' cannot take precedence over a 'father' in the inner lineage, it follows that a man's next senior 'brother' inherits before his oldest 'son'. But Tallensi say 'A father's property is heritable; a brother's property is not (...) A 'brother' inherits from a 'brother' only what came to the latter from their 'father' (plus what was accrued to it by natural increase or improvement), not what the latter acquired by his own effort. (1949a, p. 158)

This distinction follows on the 'social equivalence of siblings'

(cf. Radcliffe-Brown, 1931, pp. 428-9); as Fortes discusses it:

Siblings are socially equivalent by reason of their genealogical identity, in whole, as between full (uterine, i.e., soog) siblings, or in part, as between patrilineal siblings. There are degrees of social equivalence corresponding to degrees of genealogical identity; so that soog siblings are more nearly equivalent than half-siblings and half-siblings than orthocousins, and so on. (1949a, p. 269)

In essence, this means that siblings are 'equivalent' in respect to parents or ancestors of more or less distant generation, and thus have more or less general bonds. Thus comes the distinction of patrimonial property according to the generation by which it is acquired:

Patrimonial property, rights, and ritual objects that have been transmitted intact from their fathers are inherited strictly by seniority amongst the group of brothers who trace their descent to the original holders of these possessions. But property acquire by the deceased's own father goes only to his brothers by the same father, in order of seniority. And the custody of his children will pass to his genealogically nearest brother whether or not he is the heir to the patrimonial property. (1949a, p. 278)

The rights of holding property, that is, of what may be done with it, are also determined by the way in which it is acquired, and by whom stands to inherit it (cf. Fortes, 1949a, p. 103). This is not only a matter of variance in formally defined 'rights' and the threat to ancestral rebuke, but may be backed up by various means of applying pressure to which the feature heirs have access, primarily, public opinion. This is especially true in the case of brothers. Fortes indicates that

When disputes occur over the division of patrimonial lands or other property that passes by inheritance, it is always amongst a group of 'brothers', never between 'father' and 'sons'. (1949a. p. 159)

This is in large part, as Fortes goes on to explain, because:

An oldest brother, a senior son, steps into the shoes of his 'father' in relation to society at large. He does not acquire paternal status within the lineage vis-á-vis his 'brothers'. The rights he exercises over dependants are shared by them (ibid)

We have, then, the primary formulation of the rules of inheritance: fathers take precedence over sons, older brothers over younger. Membership in the lineage is transmitted by any father to all of his sons, thus any may stand to inherit. Paternity may sometimes be questioned, however, so we must consider its boundaries and 'grey' areas. These are all issues raised by cognatic kinship, including that of the mother. Further, we need to briefly mention the position of illegitimate children in the lineage.

Tale marriages, as we shall see in the next chapter, are highly unstable affairs, particularly until after the birth of children. Even after one or more offspring have been produced, a wife may leave her husband or be taken back by her father if, for example, the husband has not paid her bride-wealth (1949a, p. 87). Since remarriage is the norm, this means that there are numbers of children whose mothers are married to men other than their biological fathers. Tallensi place a high premium on the coincidence of jural and physiological paternity, however, and in most circumstances known physiological paternity will outweigh any later vicissitudes in the marital relationship of the parents. Even if the child of one man is raised in the lineage of another, he (or she) will still draw his own lineage affiliation from his physiological father, and will, for example, observe the taboos of his father's people. After he has reached a suitable age for separation from his mother, he will return to his father's household. His father is then obligated to make a payment in compensation for 'rearing' to the man in whose household the child had previously lived (1949a, pp. 136-7). The same rule and procedures apply whether the second man (the 'rearer' of the child) is the child's mother's second husband, or one of her agnatic kinsmen, the child's mother's brother, for example. Serious problems arise only where the child's genitor was not effectively married to the child's mother, thus making the child illegitimate. The Tallensi have relatively free pre-marital intercourse, so, although the low age of marriage for women helps to minimize them, illegitimate births are not highly uncommon.

An illegitimate child is generally raised by his mother's lineage, as though we were a son of that lineage:

An illegitimate boy will grow up to all intents and purposes as a child of his mother's father's or brother's family, and as a full member of the clan ... But he has two fundamental disabilities which nothing can overcome and which pass, by the principle of the corporate identity of the lineage, to his agnatic male descendants. He has no right to inherit his quasi-father's patrimonial estate, though he may be permitted to do so failing other heirs; and he has no right to sacrifice directly to the latter's spirit, or consequently, to the lineage ancestors. (1944, p. 56)

This applies the child of an unmarried but not adulterous woman, and in general even if the child is taken with its mother when she gets married; and raised by her husband (1949, p. 25). Both disabilities of course apply to all women; it is only men who fall under their proscriptions through illegitimacy. such illegitimate 'sons' may become the founders of attached lineages. The child of an adulterine relationship is likely to remain as the son of the man married to his mother, provided that marriage remains stable and she does not run off with her lover. Children are highly enough valued that unless public knowledge exerts considerable pressure of embarrassment on the husband, he will accept the child as his own. Indeed, an aging and/or childless man may suggest that his wife take a lover in order to beget him sons, and may even depute a close friend to accomplish the task of insemination. Such sons suffer no jural or ritual disabilities on account of their birth (1949a, pp. 23-4).

There are also symbolic situations which may raise doubts as to the validity of a child's paternity. These have primarily to do with the status of the marriage involved, and particularity issues concerning the boundaries between the child's father's lineage and his mother's lineage. Thus,

A child's legitimate paternity is jeopardized if it is conceived or born in a situation in which its father's marital rights do not prevail. Hence, sexual intercourse between a man and his wife and by extension between any man of the husband's medial [intermediate] lineage and a woman of the wife's medial [intermediate] lineage at her paternal home is rigorously tabooed; it is a ritual 'pollution of the room (sayam dug(' ... i.e., an outrage against the lineage identity - of the girl's father; for a woman has the status of a daughter in her father's house, where she comes under the father's authority and the tutelage of his ancestors. (1949a, p. 28)

It is for similar reasons that a pregnant wife is enjoined against travelling out of her husband's home near the end of her term, and that "it is a taboo to demand a girl's bride-price while she is pregnant" (1949a, p. 30). In the case of these symbolically ambiguous situations there are ritual remedies to violations, but their efficacy is never certain. It is much better simply to avoid the need for them. Such situations reveal an instance of the ambiguous position of wives - strangers within the lineage who are yet necessary to its procreation. Women are primarily responsible for problems in identity.

We have established the primary rules of inheritance and membership, particularly as they apply at the lower orders of lineage organization, where they have their most specific reference. Now we have to look at some of the procedures - and lacunae - which obtain at the higher levels. Here the same rules are applicable, for the most part, with only a greater 'margin of elasticity'. It is also important to note, though, that membership at these higher levels of the lineage is not separately determined, but is a matter of being a part of a given corporate group at the lowest order, and then following an ever increasing range of determined corporate affiliations up to the maximal lineage. Thus cases of ambiguous membership involve not so much individuals of doubtful paternity as the political relations between corporations. It will thus generally be the genealogical relationships of ancestors which are at issue, whatever the underlying pressures producing the conflict. Since we shall discuss fission and fusion in detail in the next section, we shall be brief here. We cannot avoid the issue of fission altogether, however, for at these larger levels, the social maturation of the individual and the relations between corporate groups are inextricably bound up with each other.

What is so far clear is that a man's social status, particularly in jural and ritual matters, but also in economic affairs, advances step by step with the dying off of his fathers. Strictly speaking, he is not altogether autonomous until he has no more fathers within the range of the inner lineage, but in practice he is free of effective paternal control when he has no more fathers in the nuclear lineage. (1949a, p. 157)

As we have seen above, however, the inner lineage is but one of a range of intermediate lineages above the level of nuclear lineage, and so the question of when an individual is 'fatherless' gives rise to a number of potential problems of definition. Refusal to recognize the paternal authority of would-be classificatory fathers is one of the major signs of demarcation between the lower and higher order lineages, that is, those in which generation differences are recognized and those in which they are not, those in which social individuals make up the lineage, and those in which corporate groups mediate all collective action, those in which cognate kin are shared by a principle of extension, and those in which they are not.

This margin of elasticity in the range of classificatory kinship within the lineage often leads to conflict and it is in these conflicts that the process of fission is often completed. They arise chiefly in connexion with the inheritance of widows and the succession to the lineage bo ±ar (that is, to the headship of the lineage) - 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. 156)

It is primarily within the range of the intermediate lineages that these disputes take place, and, in their resolutions, that there is a rearrangement of the patterns of corporate alignments within the lineage principle. Varying claims turn on reference to ties to ancestors, since at these levels inheritance is primarily a matter of custody of ancestor shrines, and groups are defined through their relationship to a common ancestor some four to seven generations distant (cf. 1949a, p. 159). Dispute over salient boundaries may take the form of a question of who the common ancestor is, in other words, whether he links together the members of, say, an intermediate lineage or of a section or maximal lineage. This is, then, a dispute over the nearness of common ancestry. The other prevalent form is a dispute assuming common ancestry but debating whether there is a known difference in the number of generations between a number of given corporate groups and their common ancestor, and whether, if there is a difference which some can recollect, it is to be recognized as a jural rule.

Disputes may take place over inheritance or succession at a number of levels following the death of a senior man, since he may well have been the head of a series of segments of ascending order. A very wide arrangement of property and/or political relations may ensue (1949a, p. 159). As we have noted above, property is always inherited on lines established by reference to the ancestor or parent who first owned it (1949a, p. 157). Whatever the political, economic or other pressures and repercussions involved in these rearrangements, what is important here is that they are argued out in terms of the principle of agnatic descent.

This is true even of assimilated lineages (those descended from a slave or for another reason not acknowledged as a common ancestry with the lineage to which they are linked) or attached lineages (where common ancestry is subject to the interdictions of illegitimacy). When these are eventually absorbed into the lineage jurally and ritually, as full members, it is by incorporating them into the line of agnatic descent, usually by disavowing their divergent ancestry (1945, pp. 40 and 53-5). The rules involved in the principle of agnatic descent are important, not only to the extent to which it may be established that they are directly followed, but even more, in that where readjustments or manipulations take place, they take place within the framework laid down by these rules, and the number of alternatives available is limited by the rules and the extant structure.


Inheritance - The Extent of Agnatic Bonds - Exogamy - Representation and Collective Responsibility - Cooperative Action - Fission and Fusion - Fission - Social Maturity and the Domestic Family - Matrifocal Identification and Matrilateral Kinship - Economic and Demographic Pressures - Events - Constructing the Corporations - The Salience of Ancestors

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