Chapter 4 (pt.6)


Maternal Grandparents: As has been alluded to in the preceding discussion, maternal grandparents have an essentially similar relation to their daughter's child as does their son, but at a further remove. There is really nothing to add with regard to the direct relation, but Fortes statement of the criterion for extending this distinction is somewhat ambiguous:

There are two categories of extra-clan extended kinship. One type is assimilated to the ah2b-ah2n (mother's brother-sister's child) ties, and the other to the yaab-yaan (mother's father-daughter's child) tie. The criterion is simple. If two individuals or lineages are linked through one woman (i.e., at a remove of one generation) only, they are ah2b and ah2n to each other: if the chain of genealogical connexions includes more than one woman (i.e., more than one female generation - a woman and her mother), making it a secondary matrilateral tie, the parties are yaab and yaan to each other. (1949a, p. 298)

This statement is not as much incorrect as misleading. The 'criterion' which Fortes gives is incidental rather than determinate. The two sorts of relations, though interpersonally similar, are not structurally of strictly the same sort. They are distinguished by more than simply a metaphor based on the number of generations remove. Briefly stated the rule is this: Ties to the mother's patrilineage are represented by the ah2b-ah2n relation; ties to the mother's matrilateral and matrilineal kin are represented by the yaab-yaan relation. Ah2b-ah2n links may be perpetuated through agnatic descent, but not extended as such to additional corporate groups. The yaab-yaan tie on the other hand is itself a ties of descent. This may among other things account for the fact that the same term is used to describe grandparents and ancestors of both maternal and paternal lines. The uterine descent side of this usage includes a large number of the extra-clan ties which any individual Talen or corporate group may have. These are further particularly important since they are ties of descent, and thus structurally established for (in Linton's rather unfortunate usage, ascribed' to) the actor rather than chosen (or achieved) by him. They are thus available as unacualized potential ties throughout his life until they impinge on him (say as mystically active) or are needed (say as link in a travel itinerary). A hypothetical genealogy may make this somewhat clearer (see next page).

It is apparent that within three generations removed a man may be tied to as many as four separate lineages by descent, and with each additional ascending generation he is linked to another two, both through matrilineal bonds. Thus A is tied by descent to the lineages of his father and his mother's father (brother), his father's mother's father, and his mother's mother's father and so forth in an ever widening extension. Each time a link is .....


Figure 3: Five Generations of Hypothetical Patrilineal and Matrilineal Descent

Note that in the case of matrilineal descent it is always a mother and her father who are salient (i.e., one is tied through her to his corporate group). Here, A and B are not soog (uterine kin), although they may (but not need be) clansmen. A and C are soog, but cannot be clansmen. Although it is not specifically shown here, it should be recognized that each generation of matrilineal kin in a direct line belongs to a different corporate lineage, defined by their father(s). People of common matrilineal descent are, within an indeterminate range, socially identified with one another, whatever their patrilineal corporate affiliations (1944, p. 60). The relations of people so linked (and not either ah2n-ah2b oryaab-yaan to each other are broadly similar to those of siblings. They are governed by friendly mutuality but are not formally binding, but rather voluntary (1949a, p. 282). (Such soog half-siblings are not treated separately in this discussion).

....traced matrilineally to a male, it ends with his patrilineage; when it goes to a woman it may continue. In other words, a patrilineal link may be traced to any male ancestor, and through him to his matrilateral kin. And, a link may be traced through any female matrilineal ancestor to her father (and the patrilineage he defines), but not subsequently through this father to new kin. Since with each generation matrilineal descent (i.e., those who can transmit it, women) must marry into a new clan, it is in theory, endlessly ramifying. As Tallensi say: "It is women who cause kinship to spread widely." (1949a, p. 281).

In a sense, then, the ah2n-ah2b relation is simply matrilateral, while the yaab-yaan relation is matrilineal. 'Yaab' means not only 'mother's father', but 'grandfather' on either side and 'ancestor' generally. A yaan is always descended (by some route or another) from a yaab, while an ahan is never descended from an ah2b. Thus, an ah2b may sacrifice for one, but one would never sacrifice to an ah2b. One is never descended from a mother's brother, and a brother, as such, never defines a corporate group, and it is ties with corporate groups which are relevant beyond the three generation unit implied by links to own grandparents. A brief note on matrilineal ancestors in general is relevant here, although once again, most of the relevant material has already been covered.

Ancestors: We shall here go into only certain specifics about the matrilineal ancestors, since in general they are seen as similar to patrilineal ones, but without the considerable structural significance of the latter. They also conform broadly to the description we have given of matrilineal grandparents, the genealogically nearest members of the same classification. Now, Fortes tells us that

in the strictly personal affairs of the individual, his matrilateral ancestors have as decisive a role in his life as his patrilineal ancestors. (1949a, p. 294)

In fact, they may have even more such importance, since the patrilineal ancestors seldom affect him in 'strictly personal affairs' being concerned with him as a member of the lineage corporation. A man's matrilateral ancestors, however, come from a variety of different lineages, and through them he has his own particular constellation of extra-clan descent relations, as symbolized in their inclusion in his set of Destiny ancestors (see Chapter 5). This link achieves actualization directly in terms of ancestors, as well as providing a potential link for other purposes. As we have noted, only direct agnatic descendants may sacrifice to any ancestor. Thus, in order for a man to sacrifice to a matrilineal ancestor, he must go to the descendants of that ancestor and ask them to perform the sacrifice for him. This is what is behind the common description of cognatic ties: 'we sacrifice for him' or 'he sacrifices for me' (op. cit.). A man may otherwise only approach his matrilineal ancestors indirectly, through his patrilineal ancestors' intercession (1949a, pp. 298-9, 322). There are a number of occasions on which direct sacrifices are demanded, thus obligating an individual to engage in amicable social relations with his, sometimes quite distant, cognatic kin.

In addition to his Destiny ancestors' shrines, the individual has 'bakologo' shrines consecrated to matrilateral kin. These are the shrines used for divining.

A bakologo shrine is, by definition, a 'female (bumpok)'s shrine. That is to say, the ancestors associated with it come, by definition; and the dominant figure among them is usually a woman, a 'mother'. It is a point of striking significance in the social psychology of the Tallensi that the spirits through whom a diviner makes contact with the ancestors of his clients should constitute a 'feminine' group, the more so when the character of the bakologo complex is understood. The bakologo is the very incarnation of the vindictive and jealous aspect of the ancestors. It persecutes the man in whose life it has intervened relentlessly, until he finally submits and 'accepts (die)' it - that is, until he undertakes to set up a shrine to the bakologo spirits in his own home so that he can sacrifice to them regularly. He then promises, also, to use the shrine for divining. But not every man has a talent for divining, so most men simply have the shrine and do not use it for divination. It is interesting to note that nine out of ten men over 40 have bakologo shrines. (1949a, p. 325)

This description serves, in essence, to bear out the suggestion that matrilineal ancestors are concerned with those of the individual's activities and relations which are not strictly a function of his corporate group membership. They form no corporate group, but cross boundaries (either or both linking and threatening) between a multiplicity of corporate groups. A few words on cognatic relations in general may be in order here before we go on to note certain more personal contacts and friendship relations.

Cognatic Relations: The links which obtain between individuals through marriage and matrilineal kinship are of considerable importance in the operation of Tale society, but in a largely different way than agnatic ties.

The distinction turns on the principle that lineage ties always unite people in or relate them to corporate groups serving common interests and held together by common values, whereas cognates do not necessarily form corporate groups. Cognates have mutual bonds of sentiment and reciprocal obligations, but not necessarily common interests. (1949a, p. 13)

There are some common interests, however, both in the larger polity and in various particulars, such as the interest which a man and his mother's brother share in his growing social maturity and differentiation from his patrilineage. On the larger level, cognatic kin ties are one of the chief elements in the provisions which the culture makes for reconciling conflicts through the contraposition of ties and distinctions:

However the lineage system separate individuals and corporate groups from one another, or sets them against one another, this underlying network of extra-clan bonds knit them together; and this is a very powerful factor in maintaining the equilibrium of Tale society. In the social structure as a whole it has a complementary function to that of clanship. In the old days it acted as an unseen brake on the tendency of clans to resort to fighting as a means of settling their differences; and if fighting did break out it gave an extra stimulus to any efforts directed towards making peace. For, as likely as not, every man on either side had relatives among the enemy and was swayed by divided loyalties. (1949a, p. 287, see also p. 135)

This is not to say that cognatic ties are of equal weight in determining collective loyalties, for they are not. As Fortes notes:

Tallensi say that where there is a clash of interests a man will always side with his patrilineal kin while endeavouring, if possible, to refrain from bringing harm on his maternal kin. (1949a, p. 319)

Patrilineal relations are thus relatively fixed as opposed to the fluidity of matrilateral and matrilineal relations (1944, p. 50, 1949a, p. 342). Further, cognatic ties vary more not only over time, but in greater proportion among individuals (1949a, p. 281). Each person's set of cognatic relationships is thus usually unique (the only exception being full brothers who are not yet married). In instances of personal need, therefore, cognates turn to each other and not to other agnates (1949a, p. 266). It is of course the opposite in jural and ritual affairs, where the patrilineage is all-important. Fortes sees cognatic ties as providing for individual or idiosyncratic relationships, but this does not seem directly to be a major function. Rather, cognatic ties provide for a multiplicity of interpersonal relations, and thus for choice among them, for a number of options. Fortes' statement is:

Ties of cognatic kinship breach the barriers between individuals erected by the lineage system. They represent the recognition by the society that the direct social bonds of individual with individual are as vital for the well-being of the society as the fixed framework of corporate groupings. The intricate, ever-changing web of interpersonal kinship creates a diffused sense of mutual interest and dependance among the people of neighbouring communities. (1949a, pp. 343-4)

The last sentence seems likely enough to be true, but the first not so at all. It is 'barriers' between groups, not between individuals, which are 'erected' by the lineage system, and which are breached by cognatic relations. In addition, the second sentence makes a socio-psychological assertion, it appears, that 'I-Thou' bonds are important to the social order. This seems plausible, but according to Fortes' earlier discussion (see the first part of the present chapter) the closest bond between individual Tallensi is not one of cognatic kinship per se, but is the bond of full brothers. To be sure, brothers are full because their matrilineal as well as patrilineal kinship is identical. Nonetheless, as the first part of this chapter has shown, there are a variety of interpersonal social relations among fellow lineage members. It is thus not simply for the chance at direct social bonds of individual with individual' that cognatic relations exist. They give individuals a multiplicity of choices, thus allowing for flexibility in the social organization and at the same time, they structure these contacts and associations into defined forms of relation, which though more varied and changing than corporations, still have more continuity over time than simple egoistic choices, or the relations of atomized individuals (for more reasons than one, see Chapters 6 and 7). This latter is one of the essential points of describing these as 'formal' relations.


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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