THE AUTHORITY OF ANCESTORS
AMONG THE TALLENSI OF NORTHERN GHANA
Craig Jackson Calhoun
A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of M.A. (econ.) in the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, The Victoria University of Manchester, 1 October, 1975.
The Tallensi are a people of some 45,000 persons living in the Frafra area of Northern Ghana. This thesis is about their social order, most particularly as it was ordered in the 1930's, and in most respects for long before that. Central to both the social order and the thesis is the authority of ancestors. The way in which ancestors delimit social groups, are the foci for their members' interaction, points of reference for settlement of disputes, and explanations for events are all aspects of ancestral authority. Clearly this is linked to many terms which have figured in social theory and analysis: tradition, social continuity and change, individuality and sociality among others. All of these are involved in the present consideration, but as elements in a model of social order. Disorder is also treated, but it is not the focus.
An overview of the thesis's argument and discussion of its theme are given in chapter 1. Hopefully this will provide the reader with a conception of the enterprise as a whole, for the subsequent chapters will be of more value if read with an idea of where they are leading. These are mainly two parts. Chapters 2 through 4 and part of chapter 5 are devoted to detailed explication and analysis of the Tale social organization. This is ordered implicitly by the more theoretical positions I will present in the last part of the thesis. It does not contain extensive theoretical discussion or reference, however, primarily for reasons of clarity. For the most part, the information given in these chapters comes from Meyer Fortes' remarkable monographs and several articles on the Tallensi. Reference is made to Fortes' work only by date and page, unless the context would make omission of the name confusing. It may be helpful then to list his works on the Tallensi here, so that the reader may link title to date.
1936a: "Culture Contact as a Dynamic Process."
1936b: "Ritual Festivals and Social Cohesion in the Hinterland of the Gold Coast."
1940: "The Political System of the Tallensi of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast.
1944: "The Significance of Descent in Tale Social Structure."
1945: The Dynamics of Clanship among the Tallensi.
1949a: The Web of Kinship among the Tallensi.
1959: "Oedipus and Job in West African Religion."
1961: "Pietas in Ancestor Worship."
1965a: "Some Reflections on Ancestor Worship in Africa."
Such of Fortes' other writings as are cited are noted in standard form. Wherever practical I have attempted to give Fortes' statements in his own words. Such gains in legibility as might be made by extensive rephrasing would not make up for the losses in exactness and credit. It is all too easy to bend meanings in restatements. Fortes, in particular, has suffered at the hands of earlier commentators who have restated his arguments as though they were challenges. I should like to clear how much of a debt I owe to Fortes as well as clear what exactly he said.
With chapter 5 the thesis begins to get both more theoretical and more argumentative. It takes up the crucial issues of the determination and impact of social identities in contexts of social action. In chapters 6 and 7 the theoretical roots and arguments of the thesis are given fullest voice. Chapter 8 presents a formal model of social order drawing on the rest of the thesis. This is of necessity very brief; its discussion could be expanded indefinitely. The last chapter returns substantially to the Tallensi with a summary consideration of the nature and mechanics of ancestral authority. The conclusion is only a brief suggestion of what 'the larger picture' might be.
Throughout the work I have eschewed footnotes and incorporated all citations into the text. I have followed Fortes' use of Internation African Institute recommended phonetic alphabet in rendering Tale terms.
The arguments in this volume bear the stamp of a number of great teachers. One can only wish that my presentation demonstrated that I had learned as much in style as in sociology and anthropology's less literary aspects. The influence of Robert Merton should be apparent to any reader. No one else in modern sociology has kept theory in touch with research as much as he. Three things that I learned from his teachings have been of continuing use to me: he taught me to read and reread Sorokin, to read and reread Merton, and never to say alternatives when I mean options. I owe much to other teachers as well: Max Gluckman, Sally Falk Moore, Robert A. Nisbet, and Peter M. Blau, especially. In Professor Blau's seminar on social theory at Columbia a number of the major arguments in this thesis had their inceptions. A lone anthropologist (subsequently converted after a fashion) argued economic history and social structure with unreconstructed sociologists. The argument as here presented still has roots in many traditions.
A number of people have read or listened to presentations of parts of this work and offered helpful comments. Among those not already mentioned are Ray Bradley, James Deutsch, Thomad Gieryn, Kieth Hart, Kim Hom, David Turton, and Benjamin Zablocki. Earlier versions of parts of chapters 6 and 7 were presented in the session on the Social Modification of Individual Choices at the Public Choice Society Meetings in Chicago, 1975 and in Robert Merton and Harriet Zuckerman's Seminar at Columbia. To these people and many others I am grateful. I appreciate also the moral support given by those with whom I have lived during the writing: at Sheen and 5 acres, in Philadelphia, New York, Silver Lake, Claremont and San Diego.
This work is dedicated to ancestors of two sorts: to Max Gluckman, in whose house I began to write it, and to Jay and Audrey Calhoun, in whose house I began.
CONTENTS: AN OVERVIEW
Chapter 1: Theme and Argument
Chapter 2: The Corporate Structure of Tale Society
Chapter 3: The Principle of Agnatic Descent
Chapter 4: Interpersonal Relations
Chapter 5: Context and Identity
Chapter 6: Individuality and Society
Chapter 7: Rationality and Planning
Chapter 8: A Multivariate Model of Social Order
Chapter 9: The Authority of Ancestors
Conclusions: Basic Contradictions
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: THEME AND ARGUMENT
The Question of Ancestral Authority
A Traditional Social Order
The Evidence for Stability
The Units of Social Organization
Chapter 2: THE CORPORATE STRUCTURE OF TALE SOCIETY
The Condition of a Static View
The Nuclear Lineage
The Inner Lineage
The Intermediate Lineages
The Maximal Lineage
Political, Jural and Ritual Positions
A Note on Ancestors
Chapter 3: THE PRINCIPLE OF AGNATIC DESCENT 81
The Extent of Agnatic Bonds
Representation and Collective Responsibility
Fission and Fusion
Social Maturity and the Domestic Family
Matrifocal Identification and Matrilateral Kinship
Economic and Demographic Pressures
Constructing the Corporations
The Salience of Ancestors
Chapter 4: INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS
Inter-Personal Categories of Relations
Father and Son
Grandfather and Grandson
Ancestor and Descendant
Women in the Lineage
Mother's Brother and Sister's Son
The Influence of Locality
The Operation of Formal Relations
The Influence of Personal Preference
Chapter 5: CONTEXT AND IDENTITY
Identification by Contraposition
The Social Situation
The Social Individual
Static Aspects of Individual Identity
Temporal Dimensions of Individual Identity
Chapter 6: INDIVIDUALITY AND SOCIETY
The Dynamics of Dependence
The Dynamics of Independence
Chapter 7: RATIONALITY AND PLANNING
Problems of Utilitarian Rationalism
Individuals are Variable Actors
Individuals are Complex Decision-Makers
Individual Actions Have Unintended Consequences
Time Spans and Plans
The Insufficiency of Rational Social Organization
Chapter 8: A MULTIVARIATE MODEL OF SOCIAL ORDER
Chapter 9: THE AUTHORITY OF ANCESTORS
Who Has Authority?
What is Subject to Authority?
How Does Authority Last?
Conclusion: BASIC CONTRADICTIONS
1. Diagram Showing the Developmental Cycle of the Joint Family.
2.Hypothetical Agnatic Relations Among Elders of an Intermediate Lineage.
3. Five Generations of Hypothetical Patrilineal and Matrilineal Descent.
4. The Limitation of Options.
5. All Relationships in the Model of Social Order.
6. Positive Relationships in the Model of Social Order.
7. Negative Relationships in the Model of Social Order.