Chapter 3 (pt.2)


The Extent of Agnatic Bonds

Next let us look at the various ways other than inheritance in which the principle of agnatic descent establishes the framework of social action for the Tale corporations. We shall take up three rule-governed types of interaction in which agnatic bonds operate as the core variable in establishing identities. These are exogamy, collective responsibility and cooperative action. Each may be see as primarily a matter of links among members:

Exogamy : We are here concerned only with exogamy strictly considered, that is, the prohibition of marriage within a given corporate group. In the Tale case this is the requirement that men and women marry out of their patri-lineages at all levels. This requirement varies in intensity according to level - as we have seen, in the intermediate lineages it ceases to be a matter of 'sin' - but is universal in its formal applicability. We shall consider the prohibition against the marriage of extra-clan kinsfolk in the next chapter. Nonetheless, the two are not entirely unrelated, for in both cases what is at issue is a matter of boundary maintenance and the successful management of inter-linkages between social units. Indeed, the lineage segments in which violations of the rule of exogamy are clearly sins are those of an order where members are linked by a dense net of interpersonal bonds. The close linkage of rules of exogamy to the principle of agnatic descent is seen in the fact that no distinction is made between it and other ties of consanguineous kinship. Patrilineal kinship is, however, more than simply dominant, it is the only variety of kinship which gives rise to corporate groupings. It is a point worth emphasizing, however, that the salience of rules of exogamy for these patrilineally defined corporate groups is greatest where not only are they most closely linked internally, but their external links of cognatic kinship are shared in common by all members of the lineage or segment. Though Fortes does not emphasize this as such, it would seem to support his more general arguments on the significance of complementary filiation (see 1949a, pp. 337-47 for foreshadowings, but this concept grows in importance in Fortes' later writings; cf. 1969, pp. 98 and 250-75):

The descent principle is normally, probably invariably, counterbalanced by the principle of complementary filiation (1969, p. 98)

In other words the rule of exogamy is particularly important where boundaries are frequently being crossed, and thus brought into issue.

This may become somewhat clearer if we consider Fortes' restatement of the rule in terms of a subsidiary principle:

The crux of the rule of clan exogamy and of the collateral prohibition of marriage with any person consanguineously related - and no distinction is made between these two classes of restrictions - is the principle that by do ±am [kinship] and dien [in-law-ship] are irreconcilably contradictory. Marriage implies the absence of kinship ties between the parties, and kinship the impossibility of marriage. Kinship ties exist in their own right; dien is an ad hoc alliance of a contractual nature. (1944, pp. 52-3, cf. also 1949a, p. 16)

Here it is obvious that the primacy of the impersonal and formally permanent bonds of the corporation is being emphasized over the inter-personal bonds of contract. Further, it becomes apparent that a crucial question is of the extension which these agnatic bonds receive, both diachronically and synchronically. Clearly, one reason that patrilineal bonds are likely to be remembered much longer than matrilineal (despite the formally equal weight given to each (1944, p. 54), is that they give rise to corporations with both vested interests in remembering them, and with a regular recurrence of ritual occasions which bring them into prominence.

Indeed, this is apparent in a Tale maxim: "those who sacrifice together do not intermarry". Fortes' discussion of the maxim is further revealing, for he goes on to note that it is inaccurate with regard to the larger (i.e., orders above the intermediate lineages) Tale corporations; that in some cases marriages do take place between members of groups which sacrifice together. However, he notes,

When an individual Talen applies the maxim we have criticized to his own particular field of social relations - not to that of his lineage or clan - it is perfectly apposite. For an individual in his personal capacity can only sacrifice together with other individuals if they are his kinsfolk or clansfolk; and this implies automatically that he cannot marry their daughters or sisters. (1945, p. 115)

In other words an individual acts at lower levels as a social individual, at higher levels he either acts as or is represented by a representative of his lineage or segment. The division between these two classes of 'levels' correspond to that regarding the importance (i.e., 'sin' status of) exogamy. We shall touch on marriage prohibitions again the next chapter. Here it may be well to go on to considerations of representations and collective responsibility and then cooperative action, since we have identified these as among the salient variables in determining the application of the rule of exogamy. What needs to be remembered is that the rule, as a formal interdiction against marrying (agnatic) kinfolk applies universally. It varies in application, however, and its variation is neither random nor purely (or even largely) the result of individual manipulations. It follows the major lines of the social organization, both its corporate structure and its net of interpersonal relations.

Representation and Collective Responsibility: Here we treat two categories together which are not identical, but very importantly interlinked. Although it is customary to treat a representation in a 'political' frame and collective responsibility in a 'legal' one, this seems an arbitrary distinction. The two are largely reflexes of each other, at least for the Tallensi. Each implies the functional identification of part with whole, for instance. It will be useful if we sat this discussion in a bit fuller conceptual framework than we have done with others so far, for it has been problematic in previous considerations in the literature. As there will be fuller analysis of the theoretical implications of this material and argument later, we shall here deal only with some treatments based in whole or in part on either the Tallensi themselves or on similar societies. Let us look at collective responsibility first.

By this term I understand both responsibility and liability as they are used in Anglo-American jurisprudence. As Gluckman notes, the closeness of the meanings is evident in their incorporation into a common French term: 'la responsabilite' (1974a, p. 28). What we shall attempt to establish here is not so much either the meaning of our conditions for collective responsibility as its extent among the Tallensi, that is, the activities for which the various Tale corporations may in differing degrees be held responsible as collectivities. As to meanings and conditions, we shall proceed with definition by fiat. The core matter is our definition of the corporation, for this is the social unit which may be held collectively responsible. There is no other to which this phrase may reasonably be applied, no matter what the situation. The definition we have followed above in outlining the nature of the various Tale corporations follows fairly closely on Smith's treatment of a public as

an enduring, presumably perpetual group, with determined boundaries and membership, having an internal organization and a unitary set of external relations, an exclusive body of common affairs, and autonomy and procedures adequate to regulate them. (1966, p. 94)

It should not be thought that this definition provides a simple unitary categorization. Rather, corporateness maybe seen to be a variable, one which ramifies into various categories such as we are treating here - exogamy, collective responsibility and cooperative action - each of which in turn may be seen as a further variable. Within this composite picture of characteristics making up the multivariate 'type' corporation, collective responsibility is particularly bound up with what Smith calls the "unitary set of external relations". In other words, it is a matter of the extent to which relations of the corporation of any of its members to any external social unit bring forward the entire corporation as the social unit concerned. What corporation is so identified is a matter of contraposition within the corporate hierarchy (see Chapter 5). This unitary aspect of the corporation is important, for it serves to emphasize that it is the corporation as sucht which is responsible (in certain situations) for the actions of its members, not the members for each other's actions. This is a point not always grasped by writers on the subject (cf. Moore, 1972, and discussion in Chapter 6). In addition, we must distinguish between the responsibility of the corporation for its members' (and hence by the principle of representation its) actions vis-a-vis external social units and its internal organization including any concept of the responsibility of members to the corporation. This is a distinction Gluckman fails to draw in arguing for the extension of the concept of collective liability to 'specific purpose' associations which are not corporate groups (1974a, p. 38). By treating corporateness as a variable rather than a simply dichotomous categorization, it is easier to establish that groups are more corporate to the extent to which they have collective responsibility (indeed, we should perhaps call it corporate responsibility).

The matters for which the corporation is collectively responsible are determined primarily by the order of the lineage or clan. We may emphasize that this responsibility is a matter of 'right', following on the collective definition under the authority of a common ancestor; in what matters or to what extent a corporation actually accepts responsibility is another matter. This may depend on the standing of the individual or individuals through whom it is involved, or on other issues in its internal or external politics. It may also be influenced by the intervention of third parties or considerations of its own to accept one of a range of solutions any of which meets the requirements of the formal rule of corporate solidarity in a case of collective responsibility. Further, the established procedures vary for the different orders of corporations according to the long-run prevalence of the types of solutions which may be worked out considering the density and intensity of bonds at that level. In other words, there are rules phrased abstractly which apply equally at all levels of organization, and there are more concrete ones, or variations in the application of the abstract ones, which take cognizance of the distinctive nature of each corporate unit. Rules of this second sort shape the outcome of incidents, but they do so in accordance with the probable strengths of commitment of each of the parties concerned.

The fact that the same formal rule of collective responsibility applies at all levels is important especially for establishing the relative identities of the parties to any given incident. It (the principle of agnatic descent) establishes the range of bonds and the order of corporations which will be involved. The same principle also identifies the spokesman or representative of each group, who is its head (or a deputy),usually acting (both in internal decisions and external presentation) in consort with other senior members of the clan, lineage or segment (Fortes, 1945, pp. 227-8). The corporation thus acts as a single 'whole' in external relations following on collective responsibility.

This is, of course, reflected internally in the various ways in which the lineage is, in fact, a whole. In no case is it in fact completely so; it always is a matter of varying quantity, and may be represented in inter-personal intra-lineage relations in the form of either (or both) mutuality of reciprocity (the two major forms of Tale relations noted above and discussed further in the next chapter). Mutuality, which applies to the relations of brothers, is greater in intensity according to the closeness of kinship, and is primarily extant within the nuclear lineage, generally follows lines of common property, and thus limits the extent of individual responsibility within the corporation. It may thus limit the debt created by a retaliatory raid based on the collective responsibility of a corporation including two close agnates:

The most important criterion determining whether or not a particular service or gift or loan creates a debt is kinship. Members of a nuclear lineage and of an expanded family do not incur debts by borrowing from one another. The same rule applies to cognates whose kinship ties are as close as those of members of a nuclear lineage. (1949a, p. 214)

The meaning of the last sentence is actually unclear. Presumably Fortes is referring to a closeness of sentiment in kinship ties, or at most a subjective comparison of value, because cognatic kinship ties are never as close in all ways as those of members of a nuclear lineage. Cognates, for example, never inherit land from one another, while the nuclear lineage is (its ancestor is) the major focus of the inheritance of land.

Tale awareness of the implications of collective responsibility is evident in the fact that Fortes found it a consistent practice that

Tallensi never undertake anything of importance ... without the knowledge of the other members of the medial lineage and without consulting or at lest informing the head of their section or maximal lineage. (1945, p, 227)

Also apparent in this statement is the gradation of the importance of collective responsibility (as represented by responsibility to the collectivity) with ascending or descending lineage order. Some extent of collective responsibility still obtains at the clan level, however, although it is clear that the internal relations will be generally a matter of reciprocity and thus create debt (assuming clansmen who are not also much closer agnates):

The unity of a clan or a lineage is not only a vital fact of experience for its members but the principal concept by which other corporate groups define it in jural, political, and ritual relations. Thus in the old days a creditor could raid the livestock of any clansman of his debtor, but not those of a neighbour of his debtor who belonged to a different clan. In the latter case a reprisal raid was the penalty. In the former case the victim of the raid could demand restitution from his clansman, the original debtor; and I know of men who pawned a child or sold him into slavery in order to find the means of repaying a clansman who had been raided, rather than let the affair become a source of conflict in the clan. This is a good illustration, incidentally, of the statement previously made that collective responsibility is not a principle of Tale jural relations. It is not the clan but the debtor himself who is responsible for his debt. Self-help is a technique for putting pressure on a debtor through the mechanisms of clan and lineage cohesion. (1945, p. 245)

Now, in fact it is important, though Fortes does not emphasize this (Gluckman does, in general discussion, 1974a, p.32), that the creditor should raid a clansman of the debtor, but not the debtor himself. This is not only a means of putting pressure on him, but acts in a way as a process of adjudication. Attacking a fellow clansman of a debtor (if that is the level at which relative social distance places the two parties) follows the lines of identification by contraposition, and further ensures that the claimant will have had to be assured of the backing of his clansmen in his claim, as the victim's (and debtor's) clan might retaliate with a reprisal raid. This, under some circumstances, could lead to a full-scale war along the major cleavages of Tale society, including that between Talis and Namoos (1945, pp. 234-44). As Moore has emphasized, the 'expandability' of such disputes is a structural characteristic while their expansion in actual cases is the result of various particulars of political affairs. In any event, it seems more reasonable than Fortes allows to consider collective responsibility a principle of Tale jural relations. One corporation is responsible to the other, (or respon sive to it, as the case may be), regardless of who is responsible internally in the one, or who receives first claim on the spoils of a raid in the other.

Pospisil has suggested that such variations in practice inside and outside of corporate groups or at different levels denotes the existence of 'a multiplicity of legal systems' (1971, pp. 97-126) a claim which I do not take to be well founded. In particular, it seems clear that there is a single system among the Tallensi, not only because of the similarities of practices across a wide range of corporations, or even the application of consistent formal rules, although these are aspects of it. Rather, there is a single system because each group depends for its identity and organization on its contraposition to other groups in a hierarchy formed on the same principle, because no group legislates its own jural rules, and all are governed by a series of transformative rules which (at least in part)create their future states. Certainly each has its own exigencies of political power to contend with, and each may interpret or follow the jural rules in the way or to the extent it chooses in each situation, but this does not in itself change the fundamental nature of the rule, as Fortes emphasizes:

If these norms are infringed, as inevitably happens now and then, they are not thereby invalidated. The infringement tends to provoke processes which cancel out its effects and either re-establish the invulnerability of the norms or bring about a new alinement of structural ties, which neutralizes the breach. (1945, p. 90)


We must emphasize that we are dealing here with different grades of social interest, and not with hard-and-fast forms of social grouping. We are dealing with different expressions of the same underlying forces. (1945, p. 103)

Here Fortes is considering particularly the continuum of political to ritual interrelations at different corporate levels. But the two are at all levels closely linked. There may be ritual procedures to obviate the conditions which brought any given jural rule into play, and more importantly, there is always the likelihood of a mystical judgement invoking the rule posthumously, as the cause of the violator's death or other misfortune in his lineage. In any event, Posipsil seems to confuse politics - including the politics of legal judgements - with law. Indeed there may even be a multitude of laws and procedures, but this does not mean there is a multiplicity of legal systems. The 'legal systems' of which Pospisil finds a multiplicity are more like - among the complex agglomeration of parts which make up most Western legal systems - police forces. In America, for example, there are a number of these, they act with only lateral connections to each other, they have power, which they often use to enforce norms they have not the authority to formally establish, and which may or may not have been established by someone with that authority (see on this and related matters, Black, 1969, p. 90). Multiplicity - the extent of incongruency - among legal systems would seem a variable for empirical investigation.

In the Tale case there are indeed differences in the sorts of procedures followed and rules invoked in different situations by different corporations. These are of two sorts, those which contrast internal vs. external affairs for any corporation, and those which vary according to the order of lineage of clan. The latter, I think, includes what Moore means by 'different social levels' (1972, p. 93) and Pospisil by multiple 'legal levels' (see 1975 for most recent discussion). The difference is not entirely one of levels, however, for there may be differences in political exigencies obtaining for two lineages at the same level. Gluckman's phrase "a series of fields of law, some at varied levels" (which is also close to Moore, 1973) seems more to the point (1974, p. 39). But again it must be emphasized that generally speaking, these are fields differing in the application of common law, not different legal systems. There are, to be sure, some changes in recognized subsidiary rules in the range of the intermediate lineages. These include, for example, the dropping of recognition of generation differences in succession, as discussed above. They are, however, all linked through common application of the principle of agnatic descent, and indeed represent a series of gradations in its application rather than a set of distinct principles.

Moore, taking Fortes' material on debt among the Tallensi among her examples, links collective responsibility closely to self-help and the expansion of disputes, which she suggests (rightly) may only take place "above a certain minimal organizational level (1972, p. 70). She is concerned among other things to point out that the existence of collective responsibility does not mean that in the long run individuals are not held individually responsible for their actions. As we have observed, it was Fortes' notation of individual responsibility which led him to assert that collective responsibility was not a Tale jural principle. Moore's argument (which we shall consider further in Chapter 6) arrives at this position:

Whether there is usually as clear a measure as one chance for such collective help, or whether in other societies the rules are less precise, there is no doubt that within a group or aggregate bearing collective liability, in the long run individuals are held individually responsible for their actions. Collective responsibility does not exclude or substitute for individual responsibility. Both can and do operate simultaneously at different social levels. (1972, p. 93)

Now, Moore is equating this difference in levels to the external/internal distinction. A cooperation is collectively responsible at the (higher) level of its external relations; in individual is responsible at the (lower) level of the corporation's internal relations. But, as we have repeatedly observed, collective responsibility is greatest in the lowest order corporations. It is the minimal or nuclear lineages which are most likely to start together 'as one man' and to have common rights in property which make it difficult to sort out individual responsibility. It is in maximal lineage or clanship relations that debts may be incurred by reprisals following on collective responsibility, debts which must be paid by the individual who implicated the corporation (with or without the aid of his closer agnates). Thus we may suggest that collective responsibility is formally the rule at all levels of corporations, but that it is most likely to internally resolve into individual responsibility at the highest levels of corporation. And as we shall see below, disputes are expandable above a certain level of organization because of the solidarity of ties - including collective responsibility is reflexively related to representation. In its operation, of course, it involves essentially the external representation of a group by one of its members. We shan't go into detail on the various ways and instances in which groups are represented by members. These may include ritual occasions on which a large group is formally represented - whether mandatorily or not - by just one or a few of its members. In most situations the head of a lineage is the appropriate representative of its jural interests and responsibilities. The basic rule is that

any member of a lineage can represent any other member, living or dead, or the whole lineage, in relation to other lineages of a like sort (1945, p. 201)

This principle of representation is closely tied up with the solidarity of the lineage. We have already noted some links in the discussion of collective responsibility above, as actual applications of the formal rule depend on the density and intensity of intra-lineage interpersonal ties within the corporation concerned, largely a matter of order of segmentation.

This linkage works two ways. As Fortes notes: "The principle of representative status enhances the sense of lineage or clan solidarity" (1945, p. 246). On the other hand, as we have seen, it also depends on the relative solidarity of the corporation. Let us look at a passage from Fortes' discussion of the lineage in the local community in this light:

Marriage transactions illustrate a very important principle of Tale jural relations. They are always relations between lineage units. Even when they appear to involve only particular individuals the lineage framework is implicit in the transaction. But this does not mean that all Tale jural relations are based on the concept of collective responsibility. On the contrary, jural responsibility is precisely fixed on particular individuals or exactly defined corporate units. This is graphically summed up in many Tale maxims. Thus they say "A pipe sounds best in its owner's mouth (. . .)"; that is, an action should be answered for by the person directly responsible for it. What we find, rather is that all jural relations involve a configuration of rights on one side and a configuration of responsibilities on the other, both corresponding to the range of lineage segments involved. And no jural transaction is complete until the whole configuration of rights and responsibilities, on both sides, is brought into action. Though marriage formalities involve primarily the nuclear lineage and medial intermediate lineage, they presuppose the entire framework of maximal lineage and clan relations; and this is the case with most other jural relations among the Tallensi. (1945, p. 230)

Firstly, we should note that in no, or certainly in very few relations among the Tallensi are the rights entirely on one side and the responsibilities entirely on the other; this is the case perhaps only in the relations of men with their ancestors. Secondly, we might ask what the fixing of "jural responsibility on exactly defined corporate units" is, if not collective responsibility? Thirdly, the owner of a pipe need not necessarily be a person, especially in relation to a structurally distant corporate group. The owner, who is responsible, will be defined in contraposition, not only as a matter of collective responsibility, but of collective ownership, for the corporation concerned will be those who stand to inherit the pipe before their accusers. Lastly we may suggest that bringing "the whole configuration or rights and responsibilities" into action might be usefully taken to refer to the extension of collective involvement to the appropriate range. In other words, the rights and responsibilities which link each part into their corporate identity and brought into action. Each party is identified as being that field of rights and responsibilities - that corporation - and not simply an individual.


nheritance - 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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