Chapter 4 (pt.4)


Grandfather and Grandson: This relation is characterized formally by joking and informally by a bond of affection unmitigated by the competition which occurs between successive generations (1949a, p. 197). As is the case in many cultures, members of alternate generations are identified with each other in contraposition to the generation falling between them. One major aspect to this identification is central to the segmentation of nuclear and effective minimal lineages and the vesture of new ancestors. Segmentation most frequently takes place in the third generation of common descent, and thus involves the establishment of a grandfather as the salient ancestor for the new corporation. A man's son will usually sacrifice to him primarily as the link to a salient ancestor at least another generation removed. It is his grandson who will head a segment of which he, as ancestor, will be the focus of differentiation:

A new segment of a lineage begins to crystalize out as a recognized corporate unit in the time of its founding ancestor's grandsons. For it is not until then that the process of fission in the lineage has gone far enough to separate his grandchildren and his brothers' grangchildren into distinct nuclear lineages. Thus it is a man's grandson or great-grandson who sets up a bogar consecrated to him and his mother. (1949a, p. 330)

The difference in the relations between successive and alternate generations is apparent in the fact that the first born son among the Namoos, in whom the cleavage between parents and children is focused, is his grandparents' particular favourite (1949a, p. 238).

Beyond the generation of the grandparents there are no differentiated forms of relation. All ancestors, including the grandfather (but not the father) are designated by the term yaab. Though each may be salient in a different situation, or for a different group, he is salient in the same way. Beginning with the grandfather (or less often the great-grandfather) each is the focus of internal unity and external differentiation for a given group, and he is significant as an ancestor, not a living authority figure. The prime difference between grandfathers and more distant ancestors is that they are more personal, being more narrow in the range of persons they incorporate, and there is likely to be some bond of special affection when they have lived to know their grandchildren. In general, however, the relation is the lowest order of ancestor/descendant relations, which we shall now consider more fully.

Ancestor and Descendant: As we have indicated and will continue to emphasize, the role of ancestors is pervasive in Tale society. We are concerned here only with the relations which obtain between ancestors and their descendants, not, for example, with the general function of the former as the calculus of the lineage system. It should be noted, however, that all of the aspects of this relation that we shall note obtain primarily because ancestors are the foci of identity for their descendants. The system of ancestors sets the common requirements for all Tallensi; particular ancestors set prescriptions and proscriptions for their own descendants. It is important to realize thus that relations with ancestors are primarily, at all levels below the most general, relations with particular ancestors.

Each one with his father's ways, everyone with his ancestor's ways - that is, every group has its distinctive ancestral customs - is a characteristic Tale aphorism. (1945, p.21)

Even beyond the matter of distinctions of custom, each person has distinct relations with his patrilineal ancestors (and as well has a completely unique set of 'Destiny' ancestors; see Chapter 5).


the Tallensi see the binding force of any observance held by the lineage or clan as deriving from an ancestor whose edict it is said to have been. (1945, p. 122)

At the same time that we must remember this particularity of ancestral identity, we must also note that it is not the peculiar observances which are important (they are homologous) but the delimitations of identity and relationship.

The primary nature of the ancestor/descendant relation is identity (remember that here we are considering patrilineal ancestors). This is a matter of continuity of the lineage in time paralleling its extent as a corporation of living members:

In fact, the whole stream of Tale social life emphasized and reinforces the sense of lineage continuity, and of the identification of members of a lineage with one another,with their predecessors, and with their prospective successors. This is the basis of the corporate unity and solidarity of the lineage, and of the lineal transmission of rights and duties, ritual observances, office, property, and debts; and for this reason 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 common identification in ancestors is important to the maintenance of lineage solidarity since any two coordinate sets of descendants have an identical relationship (although through different intermediaries) with their mutually salient ancestor:

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)

The particularity of ancestral identity is coupled with a generality and pervasiveness in the way in which an ancestor may affect one's life. The relation is by no means confined to the ritual sphere, nor, as we shall see (esp. in Chapter 9) is its impact primarily individualized and psychological. Even parents, significant as they are to their offspring while alive, take on a new authority when they join the ancestors:

Tallensi say that one must respect one's living parents; but to one's dead parents one owes reverence and submission in surpassing degree. That is what the proverb 'Fear the dead and do not fear the living' means to them. One can defy a living parent sometimes and rely on being forgiven; one cannot defy a dead parent, if necessary, but not without the mystical protection of one's dead parents. (1949a, p. 173)

One can of course attempt to ameliorate any offence to the ancestors or dead parents through sacrifice, but such action can never be as complete as a living parent's forgiveness. We may note, however, a possible alternative meaning to the proverb, which is that if one respects the ancestors properly, he need fear the action of no living person. The major problem with such an interpretation, however, is that neither fate nor the ancestors are entirely predictable, and it is beyond the capabilities of any man to live a flawless life, as divination after the deaths of event he greatest shows.

This points to a major aspect of the relation of men and their ancestors. Although they are linked by relations of identity, they are distinct, not least i the absolute 'right' of the latter opposed to the mortal fallibility of the former:

The relations between men and their ancestors among the Tallensi are a never-ceasing struggle. Men try to coerce and placate their ancestors by means of sacrifices. But the ancestors are unpredictable. (1945, p. 145)

This unpredictability is coupled with an absoluteness; one cannot, as it were, go over the head of an ancestor (1959, p. 19). One must pray to each ancestor through every intervening ancestor, and in praying to any ancestor one supposes the entire patrilineal line both above and below him (1949a, p. 329):

In the religious system of the Tallensi the lineage ancestors have the last word. They are a person's or a group's fathers and forefathers by strict patrilineal descent from a founding ancestor and his wife to a deceased father. They are omnipotent, but not uniformly benevolent or malevolent. They are just; and their justice is directed to enforcing the moral and religious norms and values on which the social order rests. This is the attribute that distinguishes ancestors from other supernatural agencies in most religious systems which include the worship of ancestors. (1959, pp. 33-4)

First, we may note that in this quotation Fortes refers to a founding ancestor and his wife. In light of his other (earlier, see Chapter 3 above) discussion of the lineage progenetrix as the founder's mother, we can only conclude that this statement must simply be in error on this point (which is not crucial in any event). A woman is only salient in the lineage descent as a mother, in distinguishing among or unifying brothers (see below, this chapter). Secondly, we note that justice as here discussed is never simply a matter of taking sides. The ancestors are as demanding of their descendants as they are integral to the lineage, and they are demanding primarily in terms of formal social relations. Kinship is the ultimate value upheld by the ancestors. In Tale society virtue "is a question of moral relationships, not of good deeds" (1959, p. 33).

Women in the Lineage: We have noted that only men are ever 'full members' of a Tale lineage. A note is appropriate here on the relations of women with others in the lineage, and the extent of their 'membership'. This involves essentially two categories of women: those born into the lineage, who marry out; and those who marry into the lineage, and bear it children. We shall treat of marriage as such under the heading of cognatic relations, but here we will look at some aspects of matrifocal identification in the lineage which involve women who enter it by marriage.

First let us consider women who are lineage members by descent.

On marriage women leave their paternal settlements to reside with their husbands. They never, however, lose their status as members of their own patrilineal lineage and clan. It is true that they have not the same jural rights and duties as their clan brothers and cannot exercise a responsible role in lineage or clan ritual; for a woman is a minor in jural and ritual matters. Nevertheless, women are subject to the critical norms of clanship in the same way as men. (1945, p. 147)

These critical norms include primarily the rule of exogamy and various ritual observances binding on (and distinguishing) members or particular lineages. The fact that women leave their paternal settlements in marriage means that they occupy a somewhat interstitial position in the lineage structure, as is reflected in the gradual passage of spiritual control over them to their husbands from their fathers (1959, p. 25), the propensity of witches to be female (1949a, p. 33), and the fact that dual funerals are observed for women (1965a, p. 126-7). Through marriage and production of offspring women give rise to the major cognatic relationship in Tale society, that of mother's brother and sister's son (see below).

Only in the relatively rare case of illegitimate birth are the children of a daughter identified with her own patrilineage directly, and then they are not full members.

In her own lineage a woman is either a daughter or sister, who thus gives rise to cognatic links, or a father's sister, who is regarded as somewhat similar to cognatic kin:

Tallensi associate the father's sister with relatives outside the clan. This is due to her marrying out of the clan, to her having no significant public voice in the affairs of the lineage, and to her being unable to inherit lineage property or ancestor shrines. Thus a native usually compares his relationship with his father's sister to his relationship with his mother's brother, not to his relationship with his parents. (1949a, p. 332)

This is true despite the principle of equivalence of siblings which links brother and sister. Such linkage takes effect, as it were, only in extremis, as when a sister can act for her brothers if they are all dead at the nuclear lineage range (or higher, depending on the situation involved; 1949a, p. 333). Fortes indicates that the bonds with a father's sister are primarily of sentiment and count for relatively little in the larger web of kinship relations (p. 332-4). Further,

beyond the range of the intermediate lineage a woman of a person's father's generation is not recognized as a ba-pok father's sister, but is described as a 'sister' (tau) and thus classed with all the non-specifically related clanswomen. (1949a, p. 336)

In sum, it is in their creation of cognatic ties (and the bridewealth they bring in in the process) that female members of the lineage are of primary importance. Otherwise, their status is definitely of secondary significance.

This is never true to the same extent for women (the same women, of course) when they are seen as wives rather than sisters. In this case they take on great significance as the source of the procreation of their husband's lineage, and eventually as the focus of the matricentral differentiation of dug from yir within the lineage structure. We have already noted the latter function in our discussion of segmentation (Chapter 3). Little needs to be added to that discussion for present purposes; here we shall only note a couple of specifics distinguishing the relation of mother to sons. Among these is the fact that the mother is always treated with greater restraint than the father, presumably because of the disjunction in her lineage relation (1949a, pp. 196-7). This may be understood as related to the fact we have already observed that female ancestors are regarded as arbitrary or even cruel despite the affections which mothers display for their children. There is a very strong bond of sentiment in the mother-child bond, as revealed by the fact that old women are more likely, according to Fortes, to live with their eldest sons than their husbands (in the case of second marriages). Despite the great personal mutual identification of mother and son, their formal relations must be marked by a greater distance and an element of reciprocity.

The importance of the mother is continued in the fact that her spirit remains relevant for her children, and indeed is a continuing sanction of the closeness of full brothers, who are dependant in common on their mother's spirit (1949a, pp. 252-3). The mother (progenitrix) is also relevant in her sharing of the lineage segment's bogar shrine with her son, especially inasmuch as the shrine is derived from that of her ancestors and she holds her status

as the bearer of mystical powers and attributes that reside in the collective body of her lineage ancestors, symbolized and made accessible to man in their lineage bogar. (1949a, p. 330)

These then are the primary agnatic relations, the relations which form the interpersonal complement of the corporate structure of Tale society. All are distinguished through the principle of agnatic descent, at once establishing the grounds of mutual identity and common interests, and the need for distinction and reciprocity, formal or informal. Let us now turn to look at the basic cognatic relations which link persons not patrilineally related.


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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