Chapter 3 (pt.7)


Constructing the Corporations: Some general comments may be in order about the way in which the corporations come into existence as individual units. Fortes sees the construction of the corporations as taking place primarily through the modicum of, or in the focus of, the family:

This segmentary differentiation of the lineage follows the pattern of the family even to nomenclature. For the lineage grows out of, and through the medium of, the family, and througout its existence a lineage develops uniformly, so that it preserves the form in which it was originally moulded . . . To put it more accurately, a lineage grows by continuous internal differentiation in successive generations. It grows by the continuous multiplication of its parts, not by the mere accretion of new members. (1945, p. 198)

This statement is a normative-perhaps even paradigmatic - one, but it describes only the main trend of lineage differentiation following on population increases in the units of lower order. Two qualifications must be added. First, population increases in the lower orders by no means signal either the need for further differentiation or, indeed, even the increase of population in the higher orders. Although the population of Taleland appears to be increasing, and to have done so for many years, this is not integral to the structure. There are continuous population increases implicit in the lower orders only when they are viewed from the point of view of the 'developmental cycle' of a single unit, not when viewed over an entire range. In other words, new families may be begun, may grow and segment, without changing the total population or structure, because of course, older families are segmenting while the newer are starting, as a reflex of the same process, and death is always taking its toll. The second qualification is that lineages only 'preserve their original forms' within a broad range. A maximal lineage might well have begun as an effective minimal lineage with two incipient segments, still had only two segments when it was a nuclear lineage, and yet had five segments by the time it was a maximal lineage. This differentiation takes place through the fusing of like units in the range of intermediate lineages, or at higher orders in the case of accessory lineages and/or the amalgamation of immigrants.

There is, thus, a significant disjuncture between processes operating at the lowest levels and at the highest in the definition of corporate groups. What is important is that the expression, by the Tallensi, of all these processes in a common paradigm allows readily for a common set of transformative rules bringing a particular order of segment into operation in a given situation. It is this continuity of principles in current affairs, and not a continuity over actual past generations, which integrates the Tale corporations into a common system. Of course the two are related, but it is a more complex relation than simple equivalence.

As we have noted, despite the genealogical telescoping which takes place, disputes are always between two segments of a larger group, and

however deep a breach may be, the dissidents never repudiate membership of the larger unit, for this would be tantamount to repudiating the ancestors. The ancestor cult is the supreme sanction of lineage and clan solidarity. (1945, p. 244)

What happens is that both (or several) component segments claim equal or differential rights with regard to the larger unit and are not agreed on their internal relationships. Paradoxically enough, a man is likely to be remembered as an ancestor only if his grandson takes him as a point of differentiation in forming a new effective minimal lineage, and this lineage then thrives. If the new minimal lineage does not thrive, or if its head dies before his sons are grown and/or before he has succeeded to the nuclear lineage headship, it is likely to be reincorporated into the larger unit without differentiation. If the original man's descendants prosper and multiply, however, he may replace the previous ancestor from whom the descent and differentiation of the nuclear lineage was traced. the ambiguity in this process is not irrelevant, for these various lines of cleavage provide the ways in which material and social relations are kept coordinated, and their resolutions provide occasions for the settlement of disputes.

Fortes has suggested that in the pre-colonial days when armed 'self-help' obtained, that

every line of social cleavage was a source of weakness to the sanctions of right. It needed very little temptation or provocation for men of different clans or maximal lineages, however close the links between their respective groups, to lay violent hands on one another's property, person, or dependents. There was a general atmosphere of non-cognizance of right as such . (1945, p. 236)

There was only a partial amelioration of this state of affairs within the larger groups themselves, Fortes notes (pp. 235-6). We may suggest, however that each line of social cleavage was not only a source of weakness. It was in issues disputed along these lines that issue of 'right' were settled. As to 'rights', to be sure they did not exist as such, but rather only as an adjunct of social relations. The rights of anyone are clearly a matter of corporate membership and social relations. They are not matters of abstraction administered by external agencies of arbitration and enforcement. A crucial condition of this is that Tallensi had little interaction with those to whom they were not tied in relations of rights and obligations, and even those they had were mediated by third parties tied to both the principals.

These rights and obligations are both specific and graded in intensity, according to the specific genealogical and corporate relations on the one hand, and contractual (e.g. marriage) relations on the other. It is because of this tight mesh that long-term relation can be maintained. In considering this genealogical specificity, Fortes contrasts the Tallensi case with that of the Nuer and Zulu:

The relationship of brothers among the Tallensi might very well have been different from what it is if their social organization provided for the continuous merging of collateral lines of descent in lineal lines, so that lineage branches springing from brothers were not specifically recognized, but only the inclusive trunk-line deriving from a distant ancestor. (1949a, p. 243)

This elaborate differentiation among the Tallensi is of course closely bound up with the ancestor system and with the entire pattern of hierarchical incorporation:

The ancestor cult is the calculus of the lineage system, the mechanism by means of which the progressive internal differentiation of a lineage is ordered and is fitted into the existing structure. It is also the principal ideological bulwark of the lineage organization. (1945, p. 33).

We began these comments on constructing the corporation by noting the primacy Fortes places on the growth and differentiation of the lineage from within, through the family, and then by qualifying this stress. Nonetheless, although the system is not necessarily completely continuous over time, the joint family is integral to it, providing a focus both of agnatic unity and of cognatic differentiation. It provides the crucial example of the all-important linking of unity and differentiation in Tale social organization:

A joint family splits up - into family segments, be it noted, not into a number of dispersed individuals - if it has existed long enough to have reached an advanced stage of internal differentiation; but during its existence it is a remarkably cohesive unit. The fissiparous tendencies inherent in it structure are kept well in check until the pressure of economic needs, psychological friction, or a radical alteration in the constellation of the social relations, such as occurs when the family head dies, makes them irresistable. The split follows the lines of cleavage inherent in the structure of the effective minimal lineage on which a particular joint family is founded and it takes place by stages. (1949a, p. 67)

The Salience of Ancestors: The splitting up of the joint family does indeed take place over time, but it is not simply a function of time, as Fortes seems to imply in the first sentence above. Indeed, it, and its analogues at higher levels, are the processes by which long periods of time are constructed for the Tallensi. Much has been said about the 'depth' of time recognition, or historical reckoning, in segmentary societies, particularly those which do not have written records. Indeed history is not considered over long durations of years. Time is not abstracted to years, or any other such regularized unit either. Time, for the Tallensi as for everyone, is a matter of continuity and change (Calhoun, 1976). In particular, it is the continuity and change of genealogically constructed corporations which structures time for the Tallensi. Extension in past time occurs not in years, but in salient ancestors, in those who are remembered as foci of current differentiated units. So, in a sense, to say that a group 'has existed long enough to have reached an advanced stage of internal differentiation' is a statement of identity: the group has existed as long as it is differentiated, however many of our years have intervened. (cf. 1949a; also Goody, 1968)

Another note should be made on differentiation by ancestors before we move on to discuss interpersonal relations. This has to do with the relationship between ancestors and progenitrices: one instance of the link between cognatic and agnatic kinship, which, among other things we have suggested is the primary differentiation between the lower and higher order lineages.

As Fortes indicates:

Whenever a lineage is envisaged as an inclusive corporate unit embracing two or more subordinate segments, it is identified by reference to its founding ancestor, as the starting-point of its descent . . . Its focal ancestor shrine is designated the 'bogar of the fathers (banam bogar)', a notion that stresses the dominance of the father figure in the unity of the patrilineal descent group and in the coherence of the family. But when a lineage is visualized as a set of segments, these are designated by reference to their respective progenitrices, just as in the joint family the offspring can be subdivided in accordance with their maternal origins. The focal ancestor shrine of each segment is called 'the bogar of the mothers of the segment (manam bogar)'. It is identical in form with the fathers 'bogar' but complementary to it in function. (1945, pp, 201-2).


Taken by itself, every lineage, no matter what its span or order may be, has only one founding ancestor and one progenitrix, this man's mother. The progenitrix of a lineage becomes significant only when it is considered in conjunction with other lineages of the same descent. (1945, p. 202)

The lineage always takes its name, even when envisaged in terms of its progenitrix, from its founding ancestor, her son (p. 201). Fortes tells us that Tallensi recognize that a mothers' bogar will in time become a fathers' bogar when the lineage undergoes internal segmentation. What is unclear is whether there is any point at which it ceases to function separately as a mothers' bogar. We know that only the External Bogar among the Hill Talis is autonomous in construction. Such variables as whether the clan or lineage affiliation of the mother of the founder of segments in the intermediate range is remembered are not explicitly given. We know, however, that in general, shared cognatic kin are not recognized much beyond the nuclear lineage. It seems safe to assume that the mothers' bogar is probably most salient in the lower orders of the intermediate range and below, where the cognatic kinship it represents may be salient. To be sure, origin myths of maximal lineages and sub-clans show separate mothers for each segment, and each segment is likely to have a mothers' bogar, though cognatic kin are no longer recognized (1945, p. 197). It is important to remember that in any case, the mothers' bogar is the shrine of an ancestor and his mother, not just of the mother. It seems likely, though Fortes doesn't say, that the mothers' and fathers' bogar are the same shrine, from different points of reference. The cognatic links they embody are revealed in their construction.

When a new segment begins to crystallize out in any lineage, it requires a bogar of its own to symbolize its identity. And since its genealogical distinctiveness comes from its progenitrix, its bogar must come from her lineage. This is simply a consequence of the fact that the notion of the bogar is a ritual conceptualization and sanction of the singularity, as well as of the unity and the continuity of the lineage. A new lineage segment can only arise, among the Tallensi, by derivation from an existing lineage. It is, one might say, a rearrangement within the existing social system, and does not represent a breach of continuity. The bogar symbolizing it is, similarly, an offshoot and replica of an existing bogar. (1949a, p. 329)

The existing bogar of which the new one is a replica is of course that of the lineage of the founder's mother. It is also personalized by the incorporation of certain elements closely connected with his individual existence. We may remind ourselves that new bogars are likely to be created only at the same levels in which collective cognatic kin are recognized, personal agnatic relations dominate, and generation differences matter in inheritance and succession. Segmentation is rare beyond this range. This tie to the cognatic kin further emphasizes the integral importance of complementary filiation in maintaining the continuity of the corporate structure itself, its new elements and continuing pattern, as well as breaching it to provide for individual variation.

In addition, there is the obvious point that a segment of a lineage cannot symbolize its distinctiveness by means of a bogar derived from their own lineage bogar, which is the symbol of the genealogical and social unity of the lineage, not of its internal differentiation. The lineage bogar, as is evident, is the most esoteric symbol of the principle that runs right through Tale social structure, that social differentiation within the lineage framework springs from maternal origin. The principle operates in the lineage structures; and we have seen how, at the other end of the scale, it constitutes the springboard of individual differentiation in the structure of the joint family. This is a further instance of the consistency of Tale social structure at all levels conferred upon it by the kinship system. (1949a, p. 330)

Next chapter

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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