Chapter 3 (pt.3)


Cooperative Action: It is apparent that collective and cooperative action must be in the phenomenal manifestation of collective identity. As we have seen, one of the crucial variables in understanding collective responsibility is the extent to which corporations may be called into action by it. By 'cooperative action' I refer to all forms of action requiring the interdependent participation of a collectivity of actors. This interdependence may be serially arranged, and it may involve a number of separate and dissimilar acts. Or, it may be temporally unitary ad made up of a number of essentially similar acts; this latter I designate collective action. The primary distinction of the latter is the temporal and spatial contiguity of the acts and actors.

In this respect the Tallensi exhibit a feature of primitive society that has often been stressed: their overwhelming dependence on face to face communication and association in the organization of their collective life. Among the Tallensi it can be clearly seen that this is conditioned by their mode of economic life, their lack of the art of writing, and the absence of mechanical equipment and sources of power for transport, communications, and other technological purposes. But the student of Tale society cannot avoid the conclusion that social factors, in particular the complex of interrelated elements revealed in the narrow range of political and economic relations, the lack of a centralized political system and the dominance of genealogical connexions in all social relations, are the most important factors in the situation. (1945, p. 211)

The principle of agnatic descent forms the basis for all corporate action, which constitutes a considerable proportion of Tale cooperative action, but by no means all. There are also agnatic relations who may take collective action without forming a corporate group - e.g. brothers who farm together yet have not achieved distinction, autonomy, and stability as an effective minimal lineage. Further, and most importantly, there is cooperative action among cognates. It is of great interest that it is requirements for farm labour and subsistence aid which are handled through cognatic relations:

These are personal problems and they are dealt with by invoking cognatic kinship ties. But in ritual and jural affairs it is the other way around. These involve not individual economic or social interests but the common interests of the lineage. (1949a, p. 266)

It is in this light that we must consider Fortes' emphasis on the primacy of moral and religious bonds over jural rights and economic reciprocity in connection with the 'fundamental assumption of kinship', that is, the primacy of 'generation' in its literal sense, the tracing of kinship back to procreation in a single set of parents. In particular this stress of the economic cooperation of cognates helps us to understand why

The more distant a genealogical tie is, the more does it become a matter of moral and ritual, rather than of jural or economic, relations. (1949a, p. 18)

Since economic matters are handled through inter-personal bonds, they only relate to the corporate framework at the lower levels, where there is a high density of inter-personal relations. Further, they are closely involved with ties to cognates. The requirements for labour which cognates may pose are seldom for simply one person. Thus the individual called upon must raise a work party, which he will do from among his close agnates. It is the extent to which individual cognatic ties can mobilize agnates in this manner which distinguishes the orders of the corporate structure most clearly. This is an important aspect of the role of complementary filiation.

We are here concerned with the cooperative action of corporate groups, so we shall be dealing primarily with ritual cooperation, especially when we look at the larger groups. It is important to remember, however the link into economic activity which is provided by cognatic ties. Further, it is social relations governed by the norm of mutuality which may be mobilized to act collectively in relations of reciprocity.

As Fortes notes:

Consanguineous kinship is the fundamental condition that permits individuals to join together in a common ritual activity, and the individual's scheme of ritual values is linked to his social frame of reference through the medium of his kinship ties. (1945, p. 118)

In other words ritual activities take place among the same lines as social formulation, and are therefore a reaffirmation of corporate unity, and (as Gluckman, 1963, p. 18, has emphasized, following stimulation from Fortes) may even exaggerate inherent conflicts in order to emphasize overriding unity (cf. Fortes, 1936b). The role of ritual events as a focusing of collective unity is well seen in funerals:

the funeral of a lineage head is an event that mobilizes the entire lineage structure and demonstrates the power of the religious sanctions as the bulwark of his position. Special rites are performed, in many clans, to detach his social personality from the lineage shrines. And it is often in the divination sessions at the funerals of lineage heads that suppressed intra-lineage conflicts are brought into the open. The religious sanctions against intra-lineage conflict are thus set in motion and reconciliation brought about. (1945, p. 228)

At the funeral of a senior lineage head, the members of different corporations, both within and without his lineage, have specialized tasks within the ceremony as a whole. They are also given shares of sacrificial meats and beer as corporate units and corresponding to their relationship to the deceased.

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)

In other words, some activities of the maximal lineage may require a representative of each effective minimal lineage to be present, while others may require representatives only of the largest component segments. All, however, require the representation of all segments of a given order. That is, no member of the maximal lineage may be left unrepresented in its corporate activities.

This means that conflicts and hostilities between component segments (or, in the case of the Great Festivals, clans) must be resolved or put into abeyance periodically in order for ritual cooperation to take place:

Social ties and cleavages are most conspicuously affirmed in Tale ritual. Ritual collaboration and common ritual allegiances are indices of common interests and mechanisms of solidarity . . . To sacrifice together (. . .) is the most binding form of ritual collaboration. According to the ethical and religious ideas of the Tallensi, it is totally incompatible with a state of hostility - that is, with an open breach of good relations. (1945, p. 98)

Ritual observances require amicability, and they enhance the conditions for amicable relations. They not only are matters of common spiritual interest, and emphasize common interests in general, but they produce occasions for the formation of inter-personal bonds which create a greater density of common interests. This is true even at the higher levels of corporate organization, and to some extent it undermines Fortes' suggestion that the practical interests of the Tallensi are not involved:

Ritual is the appropriate mechanism of social organization at this level because the interests involved are not of a practical or utilitarian kind but of a moral kind - in fact, the most general moral interests of the natives, the maintenance of their existing institutions and norms of social behaviour. (1945, p. 103)

The notion of interest is a complex one, and not equivalent with utilitarian intention. It is evident here that cooperation for ritual purposes need not be distinguished in interest from cooperation on more material levels. As we shall see later, neither Fortes nor his critics (cf. Leach, 1950 and Worsley, 1956) have been fully able to encompass both sides of this. On one side Fortes has pressed for the separateness and dominance of morality; on the other side the 'vulgar materialists' have pushed a confusion between interests and purpose or intention (see Chapter 6 below).

Given the foregoing, it is difficult to understand what Fortes means by stating, on the same page, that:

maximal lineages are the smallest corporate units that emerge in political action. (op. cit.)

The difficulty may lie in the term political, for it seems possible that by it Fortes may mean not its common usage, but rather affairs having to do directly with the polity as a whole. Or, he might mean - and both would make correct statements - affairs that were 'solely' political, and not governed by direct kinship. I'm afraid that we shall have to leave the matter unresolved, but it is in any event clear that corporate ritual collaboration may serve a variety of ends, and may have a variety of unintended consequences. Not least of all, as Fortes observes:

Even though ritual measures often and obviously fail to prevent a public calamity, they serve to reintegrate the community after the calamity has passed. (1945, p. 175)

There are a great many - and a wide variety -of cooperative activities among the Tallensi which follow the lines of corporate organization. In the higher orders of corporation these tend to be primarily ritual affairs. This is because of the greater density and intensity of inter-personal bonds in the lower orders. This is not only a matter of closer intra-lineage relations, but closer relations between the members of a given segment and their neighbours and other non-agnates. The low mobility of Tallensi (when Fortes studied them) and the high replication of cognatic kin ties between paired segments means that jural and economic affairs are largely dealt with in these lower order locally contiguous corporate alignments. It is these relationships and corporate alignments which also constitute the social field in which fission and fusion of lineage segments takes place.


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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