Chapter 4 (pt.2)


Agnatic Relations

As we have noted, Tale agnates are all those persons linked by known or assumed common patrilineal descent, and no one else. Males dominate as the only 'full members' of the lineage. There relations divide into three major categories, of which others are either extensions by metaphor or gradations in intensity. These categories are brothers, father and son, grandfather and grandson. We shall first consider these three in their primary usages, then look at ancestors (other than grandfathers), matrifocal identification within the lineage, and the women of the lineage.

Brothers: As we have noted, the relation of brother to brother is governed by the principle of mutuality. Much of the relation can be understood through Radcliffe-Brown's concept of the equivalence of siblings, as Fortes notes (1949a, p. 242). In the original usage, the concept refers to both the nature of the social bond between siblings and the similarity of their positions in the total social structure (Radcliffe-Brown, 1930-1). It is the former with which we are concerned here, although of course the two are integrally related. Fortes adds to his discussion a distinction between the equivalence and the solidarity of siblings (op.cit.). This is primarily a distinction between formal interchangeability and the strength of personal bonds. For the most part, Fortes' approach is to consider the 'genetic development' of the solidarity of siblings, that is, to place prime explanatory weight on the process of growing up together (1949a, pp. 244-69). In fact, this would seem both a questionable and an unnecessary argument; the former because it introduces a new set of psychological premises to explain social facts, and the latter because there are adequate sociological reasons for the solidarity of siblings. These include their common relationship to their parent(s), their common rights in inheritance, and their formal sharing of cognatic kin, as shown among other things by the maintenance of joking relations with siblings-in-law. Common rights in inheritance accent the generally close economic dependence of siblings on each other, especially in the early stages of their farming careers. This dependence, although it is influenced by how well siblings get on with each other, is by no means wholly a matter of personal socio-psychologically based choice.

Not surprisingly, this relation of commonality or mutuality has its elements of ambivalence. Though brothers may inherit commonly, only one of them (at a time) may succeed to the social position of their father with regard to their external corporate status. The competitive aspect of the commonality emerges in greater measure as one moves to relations of greater social distance:

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 ortho-cousins, and so on. (1949a, p. 269).

Members of the same corporations in and beyond the intermediate range are still formally classificatory brothers, but there are relatively few situations in which their commonality is brought into play, since they have no property to inherit, little economic interdependence, and few occasions for collective or representative participation in jural or ritual affairs of corresponding or larger units. It is thus at this level that the Tallensi apply the saying 'A man and his brother do not like each other' (op. cit.).

This maxim has its counterpart, more applicable where mutual interests are greater: 'Brothers look after one's affairs' (1949a, p. 268). A practical reason for this is, of course, that one's brother's affairs are very much one's own, since their proceeds are likely to pass either to oneself or one's heirs, in any event, to one's lineage. Two men are brothers because of common descent from a given ancestor or father. The bond is strongest where it is their own father, weakest where the ancestor is very distant, or indeed mythological as in the case of maximal lineages. This is not in a simple sense because more generations elapse before the common agnatic tie is in evidence, but because this genealogical distance is paralleled by a number of other dimensions of social distance, from the sharing of cognatic ties to spatial proximity. Further, as we know, property is inherited by reference to specific ancestors, and the most crucial of these foci are three to five generations distant. This is due to the intersection of two variables. What gives patrimonial land its considerable economic value (in addition to perhaps favourable location) is a long period of consistent manuring. Thus land claimed some time in the past is of greater value than land taken from the bush more recently (1949a, p. 263; also Lynn, 1937). The land of a more distant ancestor is better land. However, through the Tale system of partitive inheritance, the more distant an ancestor, the more widely his land will have become redistributed. Beyond about the fifth generation, it ceases to be recognized as specifically his, and tends to be amalgamated into land passed on with reference to a nearer ancestor, in accordance with the rearrangements of corporate organization which take place in the range of intermediate lineages. Most patrimonial farm land is thus held between brothers of the nuclear lineage (1945, p. 178). As Fortes indicates, disputes over its inheritance or division are almost always between brothers, almost never between fathers and sons (1949a, p. 159).

In the case of any of these disputes or issues over inheritance, it is important to remember that:

an oldest brother, as 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. (1949a, p. 159)

The rule is fairly simple: that which brothers hold through inheritance from their father (or any specific ancestor) they hold in common. It is this which lies behind the rule that a father's property is inheritable while a brother's is not (see Chapter 3 above). Now, although this formal rule establishes categorically that what brothers inherit from their father they share, it is influenced in its extent of practical operation by other factors in their particular relationship. Thus for example:

if two brothers farm together they automatically have joint rights in all lands, livestock, and other resources they possess. If one dies the other does not so much inherit his property and position in society as amalgamate it with his own. (1949a, p. 278)

Matrifocal identification among brothers also plays a role in this, both directly and because full brothers are more likely to farm together than are half-brothers (sunz2p), especially when each has his own family (1945a, p. 200):

full (soog) brothers have the most intimate bonds in the whole gamut of Tale social relations, a bond implying an identity of interests, an emotional cohesion, and mutual loyalty so great as to override any kind of personal or social variance. (1945, p. 199)

In fact, Fortes tends to explain the bond of full brothers on the basis of their personal social similarity so it is unclear what the additional element of mutual loyalty is, but it should still be apparent that the relations of brothers show a meshing of individual adjustments and formal rules. The brothers most likely to choose to farm together are those closest in genealogical identity. The dynamics of segmentation are bound up with this same meshing: morphological matri- and patri- segments are only realized in separate corporations as a result of the concrete inter-personal relations of brothers. It is at the very least convenient that these inter-personal relations parallel formal relations, for this makes the telescoping of genealogies feasible. It is possible to fuse the social identities of two brothers into a single ancestor most readily when they have the fewest divergent social ties and material interests. Fortes stresses the formal side of this relation:

whatever the personal relations of siblings may be, their indestructible social bonds spring from their common jural and ritual relationships to their parents; and 'sibling' in this context stands not only for individuals but for lineages, while 'parent' stands for any ancestor that may be relevant in a particular situation. (1949a. p. 264)

It is clear, however, that this formal 'jural and ritual' relationship depends, if not necessarily in individual cases, at least statistically over the entire range of relationships, on the prevalence of a replication of formal and/or general bonds on the informal or personal level.

These informal variations in the dynamics or relationship may affect the arrangement of ancestors, in particular the selection of the genealogically salient ancestors who will be remembered. Two brothers who work well together and are able to maintain coordinate rather than internally competitive relations will be able to form a stronger effective minimal lineage, and thus be more likely to maintain their agnatic distinction from more distant lineage mates, perhaps even have it perpetuated by their descendants as a nuclear lineage. The economic advantages of the strong joint family mean that it will be likely to build to a larger minimal lineage before fissiparous tendencies become dominant (see previous chapter). If enough generations elapse (and enough 'fathers' die within the more inclusive lineage) the segmentation of the minimal lineage will not necessarily eradicate its corporate existence. Rather, it will change order and the new units will be its component minimal lineages. Although it does not formally affect the morphology of corporations, matri-focal identification has important influences, as we have seen. Two full brothers are much less likely to separate themselves, or later to be the foci of disparate segments, in accord with their close personal tie. If full brothers do mark the line of segmentation, the coordinate segments whose founding ancestors they are have closer ties than similar coordinate segments descended from a pair of half-brothers (1945, p. 201).

The closer bonds of full brothers, or of segments descended from them also have a ritual sanction in soog siblings' common subjection to their mother's spirit (1949a, p. 252-3). None of the differences we have noted between full and half brothers' relations are differences of kind; they are rather differences of intensity, or on various dimensions, of probability:

The social and personal relations of sunz2p [half] siblings of the same nuclear lineage are identical in pattern with those of soog siblings. But they differ, markedly at times, in degree; for the effective as well as social relations of siblings are a function of their genealogical distance from one another, and in particular of the cleavages fixed by differences of maternal parentage. (1949a, p. 257)

Note that it is the nuclear lineage for which Fortes makes this statement. Indeed, beyond that range, the use of the term 'sibling' may be seen as primarily metaphorical. As Fortes remarks elsewhere:

there are, in fact, no person-to-person social relations between individuals who are only clan-siblings of the same quality as sibling relations in the narrow sense. Their solidarity is a consequence of the general solidarity of the clan in situations affecting the common interest. Thus clan-brothers have no property relations qua clansmen (1949a, p. 268).

The importance of the relation of brothers in the narrow sense is that it is a relation between them as such, and not only as adjunct to their corporate identity. It is, further, a relation of great closeness, closer, according to Tallensi, than that of father and son, due to their social equivalence (1949a, pp. 278-9).

Siblings are laterally identified with one another, so to speak; brothers can replace on another in the social structure in a way that gives rise to a minimum of readjustment in the social relations of any other people affected. This contrasts with the vertical identification of parent and child, which rests on the continuity of the descent line not on actual or potential identity of social roles. (1949a, p. 270)

We may go one step further, and note that it is as brothers and only as brothers that men are related in the ancestors (and only men have ritual and jural majority). Each ancestor defines a different range of brothers, but he defines no other relation among his descendants. This is correlated with the fact that beyond the range of personal social relations, lineage relations are not differentiated on generation.


Inter-Personal Categories of Relations - Agnatic Relations - Brothers - Father and Son - Grandfather and Grandson - Ancestor and Descendant - Women in the Lineage - Cognatic Relations - Marriage - Affines - Mother's Brother and Sister's Son - Maternal Grandparents - Ancestors - Cognatic Relations - Informal Relations - Social Interaction - The Influence of Locality - The Operation of Formal Relations - The Influence of Personal Preference

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