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Rehfisch Thesis

Chapter Three

Non-Unilineal Descent Groups


Mambila society is characterized by bilateral descent and by the presence of kin groups of a bilateral type. No kin groups based on the principle of unilineal descent are to be found.

In this chapter the Man and Memin, two non-unilineal descent groups, as well as what I have called the personal kindred will be described. To conclude I shall give a brief account of Mambila kinship terminology. It is important that this follows immediately upon the discussion of the non-unilineal kin groups for it reflects the bilaterality of the kinship organisation.


In the past, the Memin was a unit of extreme importance in Mambila social structure. This is no longer the case today. Nevertheless I believe that a brief discussion of its rôle in the past and the reasons for its decline will help us in understanding the present day structure.

The Memin may best be defined as a corporate[41] non-unilineal descent group, whose main functions are to exchange women with other like groups and to protect its members. In some respects, the Memin is similar to the Tiv "ingol' or marriage ward group(1).

A Mambila may only give a female member of his own Memin when he wishes to contract an exchange marriage[42]. He has not the right to exchange a woman who is not a member of his Memin; in this respect the Memin and "ingol" are alike. They differ in as much as the "ingol" is a group of agnates[43], whereas some of the members of the Memin are related to the others through males and some through females.

The etymology of the term is not clear. The phoneme "Me" means "mother" but the meaning of "min" is not certain: some informants have told me that it means "one", others have said that it refers to "house", and still other meanings have been suggested. I suspect that "Memin" is an archaic term the etymology of which is no longer known.

The Memin is called after the name of its senior male living member. A Mambila who belonged to the Memin headed by one Lutap, when asked his affiliation, would say "Mi Momin a Lutap". Literally, this means: "I, Memin of Lutap", or as we would say: "I am a member of Lutap's Memin".

The Memin in the past, as it is today, was probably a small scale group. Today, the majority of such groups include no more than 14 to 16 adult members. 3 or 4 of these will be adult males living in the compound cluster in which the founder is said to have lived. This group will be called the core of the Memin. The genealogies of two Memin cores are given at the end of this section. A like number of married male members will be found living in other hamlets or villages. Marriage being almost universally virilocal, the married female members, numbering between 6 and 8, will in all probability live in hamlets or villages other than the one inhabited by the core of their Memin. It is probable that the Memin cores were larger in the past than they are today.

All members of a Memin claim a common male ancestor. This ancestor is one or two generations removed from the present day senior male member. This shallow genealogical depth can be attributed to fission[44].

Before describing the process of fission and the factors that bring it about, we had best give the methods by which a Memin recruits new members. A person is either affiliated to his mother's or his father;'s Memin, but never to both simultaneously. If Ego's parents were married by exchange and not later divorced, he will be a member of his father's Memin. On the other hand, if Ego's parents were married by bridewealth, or by exchange and later were divorced, then Ego will be affiliated with his mother's group. Offspring of a female slave belong to her husband's group.

The table below will serve to make this clearer:

Type of Marriage Affiliation of Offspring    
  Father's Memin Mother's Memin
Slave Stable X
  Ending in Divorce X
Exchange Stable X
  Ending in Divorce   X
Bridewealth Stable   X
  Ending in Divorce   X

There are some exceptions to these rules and they will be dealt with in Chapter Four.

Fission in the Memin

It was said above that the Memin is today a small-scale group with rarely more than 14 to 16 adult members. Of these, about one half will be males. The reason for this smallness is that fission is frequent. Whether this was true to the same degree in the past is difficult to say, but it is doubtful. However the process also occurred in the past.

In order to make the exposition of this phenomenon clearer a hypothetical case will be given. In the genealogy below I have given the persons European names for the sake of simplicity. The symbol X signifies marriage by exchange. The symbol signifies marriage by bridewealth.

Illus. 3:

All of the persons shown in the genealogy are members of the Memin founded by Robert. William and Marjorie belong through a uterine tie, while the rest are members through an agnatic tie. For the first part of the discussion we shall assume that Jack and John live in Robert's hamlet. Jane lives in another village with her husband, marriage being generally virilocal. Nonetheless her children are members of the Memin headed by Robert for she was married by bridewealth and not exchange. When Robert dies, Jack, the oldest surviving male member, will become head of the group. When he, in turn, dies John will become head, unless there is an older claimant.

All things being equal, Jack and John's male children will remain in their paternal hamlet and regard themselves as members of the Memin founded by Robert. However Jane's children will probably not return to the core of their Memin. I do not wish fully to discuss here the factors that make a person move from the hamlet in which he was brought up, but it is enough to say that if Jane and her husband remain together, that is do not divorce, William will probably settle permanently in his father's hamlet. Both he and Marjorie will regard themselves as members of Robert's Memin. Fission occurs in the next generation: Marjori's children will, in all probability, be brought up in still a third village. Assuming that she has been married by bridewealth, in theory her children will belong to Robert's Memin. In fact, they will be unlikely to recognise this. Rather, they will think of themselves as belonging to a Memin founded by William. William's children, assuming that he married by exchange, will also theoretically be members of Robert's Memin, but they may or may not recognise the fact. At any rate it is certain that William's grandchildren will believe Robert's group.

Fission may also occur in the agnatic line. If John were to move away he would of course still recognise his affiliation with his father's Memin. His son and daughter, Richard and Rosalind, would also in all probability not forget the tie. But their children probably would have forgotten and would think of their Memin as having been founded by John.

Fission only occurs when members leave the hamlet of origin. As such mobility is common, there is no possibility of any Memin becoming large. Fission occurs more frequently in the uterine line than in the agnatic line. This results from the fact that uterine kin are less likely to reside permanently with the core of the Memin than are persons related through agnatic ties. It is said that, if a woman had been married by bridewealth, her father - or brother - could call his daughters - or sister's - children to live with him. The fact that this was rarely done does not negate the fact that sanctions must have been available to enforce this command. I believe that when we list the rights and obligations that a Memin had over its members, we shall see what those sanctions were. Today it is impossible for a person's Memin core to make him come and live with them; this is added evidence that the rights derived from membership in a Memin have lost much of their previous importance.

Rights Derived from Memin Membership

The rights that an individual obtained through his Memin were of greater importance in the past than today. Certain acts of the Administration in the past few decades have decreased their significance. Before describing the rights, I shall list the administrative actions which have either directly or indirectly reduced the importance of the Memin in the Mambila structure:

1. The abolition of exchange marriage in the early 'Thirties'.

2. Effective abolition of slavery in the early 'Twenties'.

3. Prohibition of resort to the poison ordeal; this law has been actively enforced since about 1930.

4. Prohibition of warfare and the resort to violence for the settlement of disputes. I so not know when warfare was abandoned. Violence very rarely occurs today, and this seems to have been the case for the last fifteen years, at least.

The rights and obligations accruing to an individual from membership in a Memin as well as the changes brought about by Government acts are listed below:

The Memin had to provide each of its male members with at least one female member to give in exchange marriage in order to obtain a wife for himself. This right could be refused to an individual member who committed serious offences against fellow members of his Memin, such as the practice of witchcraft, refusal to obey orders by the elders, refusal to cooperate, and probably others. I was told that the senior male would refuse to give his permission in the cases above though the offence might have been committed against other members of the group. The abolition of exchange marriage has led to the disappearance of both the right and the sanction.

A man who had not enough farm plots would turn first to members of his Memin to obtain the use of additional land. It is said by some informants that in the past land should not be sold without the consent of the Memin.

The prohibition of warfare and slave-raiding has allowed the Mambila to utilize plots that, in the past, it would not have been safe to use. In the days when warfare was endemic, it was dangerous to stray far from the settlement, as one might be seen by either a resident or an enemy village and killed, or by roving Fulani slave raiders and captured. Therefore, only plots near settlements were farmed and less land was available for cultivation than today. It was therefore important for the individual to maintain good relations with the group who was responsible for seeing that he had enough land to support himself. Now that peace reigns on the Mambila Plateau, the Mambila can go farther afield in their quest for arable land and there is no land shortage. Land is lent and given quite freely - as we have seen it in the earlier section on land tenure - by members of a local group to anyone who wishes to come and settle among them. Therefore, the individual's right to land, which was once primarily obtained through membership in a Memin, can now be acquired for the asking either from other categories of kin or from strangers.

The Memin had rights "in rem" over its members. If a man were killed by a fellow villager, the deceased's Memin could claim compensation. A more common expression of these rights is to be seen in the fact that consent of the senior male of the Memin of the person who had been accused of witchcraft had to be obtained before the sasswood ordeal could be administered. This poison was drunk by the person accused of witchcraft: if he died, his guilt was proved, but if he survived, he was innocent. Finally, a man could not be sold into slavery or driven away from the core of his Memin without the consent of that group's head.

Nowadays the occasions on which rights "in rem" are exercised by the Memin no longer arise. Killings within the village do not occur because the Government has prohibited the use of physical force in settling disputes, and murder is, of course, a crime punished by the Government. Nowadays, the permission of the Memin head is no longer required before administering the sasswood ordeal to a Memin member since the administration of the test is a crime. A man can no longer be sold into slavery since slavery has been abolished. exile is no longer resorted to as a sanction. The abandoning of this last practice does not, as far as one is able to determine, stem from any governmental act.

A man was responsible to his Memin for his behaviour. The Memin was, in turn, responsible to larger aggregates such as the hamlet or village for the behaviour of its members. As no judicial machinery existed to enforce claims across village boundaries, the responsibility of the Memin to compensate others for torts or crimes committed by its members extended only to the village in which the member lived. In fact, acts which would be classed as torts if perpetrated against a fellow inhabitant of a village were not so classed if committed against an outsider.

Fines were often heavy and beyond the capacity of one individual to pay. For example. the fine levied upon a man who seduced a woman who had been married by exchange was five goats. This was a much larger number than any one man would likely to own. If the fine could not be paid, the Memin of the wrong-doer was expected to hand over a young girl to the husband of the seduced woman in compensation for the wrong done to him.

The Memin today no longer holds itself responsible for the payment of fines levied upon its members. The responsibility is now said to lie with a man's local group. If a man lives with the core of his Memin at the present, the members of that group will help him to pay fines, but so will other residents of his local group. The contributors will be all of the males of the compound cluster or larger unit such as the local bilateral kindred, the Man.

No administrative action can be said to be directly responsible for the lessening of responsibility of the Memin in regard to the behaviour of its members, but the fact that new rules have made it easier for persons to live with local groups other than the core of their Memin has been influential in bringing about the change.

Memin members were expected to aid their fellow members in other ways than by helping the to pay fines. Such aid might take the form of help in farm work, defence against assault, help in building houses, gifts of food in case of shortage, and so on. If there were conflicting demands for a mans help, requests from members of his Memin should take precedence.

Today the need for defence against assault is less acute than in the past. This results from the prohibition of the use of physical force. Mutual aid is soon as a duty that one owes to one's local group whether or not they are members of one's Memin.

Finally, I shall list two duties that were owed by a man to members of his Memin. These two were of less importance in the eyes of the Mambila than ones previously mentioned. The first was that a man was expected to attend the funeral of any number of his Memin. Secondly, he should give freely of his ritual knowledge to any member who needed it. This is to say if he had the knowledge of a "medicine" which might cure a suffering Memin member, he should give it without demanding compensation.

Today, one is expected to attend the funerals of all of one's kindred. It seems to be the case that if any member of one's local group requires ritual healing, it should be offered without a claim of compensation being made, irrespective f kinship affiliations.

The Memin Today

The Memin today has no functional significance. It never acts as a corporate group. In the case of a group of members living together in a compound or compound cluster, there is never an occasion upon which they will act as a unit vis-à-vis other residents of the compound or cluster. That is to say, if A and B are fellow members of a Memin living in the same cluster as C and D, A and B will not exclude the latter pair from any of their activities on the grounds that they, C and D, are not members of the same Memin as themselves A and B.

Relationships are never phrased in terms of Memin membership. To take the case of the four above: if A and B are siblings, they have an intimate bond as siblings and not as members of the same Memin. If, on the other hand, A and C are half-siblings and of different Memin and B is a father's brother's son to A, then A and C will have closer ties than A and B in spite of the fact that the latter are members of the same Memin.

Finally, I should add that I have never heard the term Memin used by the Mambila in discussions among themselves. It was only in discussing the past with me that the term was introduced. This, as well as the fact that no Mambila ever gave common Memin membership as a cause for interaction with another, is the most direct evidence that the Memin has lost what significance it once had.

Today, in the local groupings of households, the Memin principle cannot be seen. Nonetheless, the disappearance of the Memin has not brought about any major changes in the matter of residence as most individuals are still living with cognates.

In the Memin genealogies there are more male than female links. This is not a result of a higher incidence of exchange marriage than bridewealth marriage, quite the contrary, more bridewealth marriages were recorded as having been contracted in the past than marriages by exchange; it is rather because exchange marriages normally were longer lasting than the other type, and therefore more children were likely to be born to parents contracting the latter type of marriage. On this page the genealogies of two typical Memin in Warwar are set out. In all, 12 such genealogies were collected. The collection of these was made difficult by the fact that the Memin is no longer of functional importance.

Illus. 4: Chart No. 1

Genealogies of a Memin of Tiket and of Tscharl

Captions to the above chart: (1) = was married; temporarily single

The numbers indicate the age of the persons. All persons marked with red live in one cluster; those marked with yellow live in another. The man marked with green lives on "the farms", maintains a house in the cluster marked red.

A Memin of Tscharl: The numbers indicate the age of the persons. Persons coloured red live in the same cluster.


The term Man is used in reference to a corporate localised body of cognates. The normal requirements for membership are two: residence in the hamlet originally inhabited by the Man founder and real or postulated descent from that founder. The members live in a number of compound clusters haphazardly distributed in the hamlet. Later, we shall describe how a man who has known not to be descended from the apical ancestor of a Man was nonetheless granted membership in that group. Only one case of this kind was recorded, though the fact that many Man members are unable to show all of the genealogical links to the founder leads me to believe that this type of affiliation is not unique. (See genealogies of two Man, at the end of this section.)

A Mambila is potentially a member of several Man, though actively affiliated to only one at any one time. A man or woman who is able to trace descent from any Man founder is a potential member of that group. All that he, or she, need do to activate that membership is to settle in the hamlet where that founder lived, which is also the place where the present day members of the Man reside. There is only one exception to this rule and that applies to married women. As the Mambila practise complete kindred exogamy, it is of course impossible for a man ad wife to belong to the same Man. Marriage being almost invariably virilocal, the wife normally lives with her husband's Man. But, as we shall see later, many hamlets house two Man. It is therefore possible that a married woman might be descended from the apical ancestor of the Man, not the one to which her husband belongs, in her husband's hamlet. Nevertheless, she would not be considered to be a member of that other Man, since the Mambila would say that she is living with her husband's Man and not the one to which she is potentially affiliated. In the case of uxorilocal marriage, the wife retains her own Man affiliation.

A number of Warwar residents were potential members of Man located in the village, other than those with which they were actively affiliated. But, as most marriages (68%) are extra-village, it is rare for a man to b potentially affiliated with more than two Man in any one village.

The fact that a person may change his Man membership leads to a certain amount of instability. It is fortunate that it was not possible to systematically collect a large number of residence histories. My informants were reticent in giving information on their past residences, as emigration is very frequently a result of discord. That is a man will leave a Man to which he is affiliated if for one reason or other he does not get along with its members. The Mambila do not like to discuss past discord, as they say that such things had best be forgotten. Nonetheless, what little information that I have on this subject leads me to believe that change in residence (resulting in change of Man affiliation) occurs infrequently.

We shall now turn to discussion of the Man in Warwar; there are six Man in the village of Warwar: two each in the two larger hamlets and one in each of the smaller ones. The table below gives the population of each of the six Man.



Hamlet Males Females
Man-a-Gembersi Ndiel 52 37 89
Man-a-Gamsi " 28 15 43
Man-a-Mbiemgui Tiket 40 20 60
Man-a-Simchu " 46 21 67
Man-a-Norkoma Tigul 25 23 48
Man-a-Gawanum Tscharl 51 25 76
Total: 242 141 383
Average population per Man:   40.3 23.5 63.8

Not all residents of a hamlet are members of a local Man. As the Mambila practise virilocal marriage for the most part, most married women can claim no Man affiliation in the hamlet where they live for the reasons given above. Likewise, 40 males in the village are not members of any of the local Man, not being descended from the founder of the Man with which they live.

The Man is named after its founder. For instance, the first Man in the above chart is known as Man-a-Gembersi, after one Gembersi. The founder is sometimes said to be the first of the kindred to settle in the hamlet but, in the majority of cases, informants say that they do not know whether or not other members of the kindred had settled there before him. If others were there first, their names have been forgotten.

The founding ancestor is not thought of as a culture hero. In most cases, nothing is known of him, but his name. No rites are performed in his honour.

The generation depth of the six Man in Warwar varies from two to five, from the most senior male. For example, the senior male member of Man-a-Gawanum is said to be the grand-son of the founder.

All Man are equal in status. I was told that the founders had all arrived at the site of the village at the same time. This is probably not true, but in Mambila society status is largely determined by seniority and, therefore, this myth is useful since it does not allow any of the six Man to claim superiority by saying that it was the first founded. The genealogies of two Man are given at the conclusion of this section[45].

The table above shows that the man includes more male than female members. This results from the fact that most marriages are virilocal and thus, a girl -upon marriage- will in all probability leave the hamlet in which she has Man affiliations to live in her husband's hamlet. Most female Man members are unmarried girls. Others are women who are temporarily unmarried as a result of a recent separation, or old women past the marriage age, who have returned to the hamlet of their own kinsfolk to live. Women who move away upon marriage and return at a later date are accepted as members without any rite being performed to mark their readmission to the Man.

Some members trace descent from the founder through men, others through women, and some through both men and women. It is also recognised that many members are unable to trace all steps in the genealogy back to the founder, but nonetheless they are said to be his descendants and, of course, are members of the Man. In these cases it is thought that the links once known are now forgotten. 72% of all of the Man members in Warwar are able to trace their descent directly from the founder. Those unable to do so are not penalised in any way. Of the 72%, about 20% do so using one or more female links. They do not lose status in consequence.

A Man recruits members in two ways: Children born to members in turn become affiliated with the Man. Secondly, new settlers in a hamlet who are able to trace descent and/or are ascribed descent from the apical ancestor are said to be members. For instance, man who had previously lived in Dorofi, a Mambila village, came and settled in Ndiel. His father's mother had been born in this hamlet and had been a member of Man-a-Gembersi. Therefore, when the man in question expressed his intention to settle here, he automatically became a member of Man-a-Gembersi.

A Man may also lose members in two ways: death or emigration. A man who leaves a hamlet in which he has Man ties surrenders his membership in that group because, as we have already said, one of the two criteria for membership is residence in the hamlet where the Man is located.

In spite of the fact that the Mambila say that all members of a Man are kin, there is no question that this is not true in the strict genealogical sense. I was fortunate enough to see how an erstwhile stranger was incorporated into one of the Man in Ndiel. One of the senior males in hamlet whom we shall call X, when asked to which Man he belonged, said that he belonged to none. He explained that his father had left his own kinsmen at a time when their settlement was being frequently raided by the Fulani and had settled with strangers at Warwar. The head of Man-a-Gembersi, whom for the sake of brevity we shall call Y, had previously told me that X was a member of his Man. On an occasion when the two men were together an attempt was made to reconcile their views: X again assured that he was not a member of Y's Man; Y said that he must be. Had X not acted with him in ritual, communal labour for the Administration, been supported and in turn supported him in disputes?..; and, finally, did he not live with members of Y's Man?.. (The latter statement meant that X and his family lived in a compound cluster largely composed of members of Y's Man). X agreed that all of this was so and, if these were the criteria of Man membership, then truly he must henceforward be a member of the Man headed by Y. The fact that he was known not to be a descendant of the founder of the Man was brought up by me, but was shrugged aside by Y as being of no importance. To my question of whether X and his descendant could marry females of Y's Man, both parties agreed that now this would be impossible. They were nor certain whether X or his descendants would be able to wed kin of Y who were not at the same time members of the local Man. I should think that, for a few years, it will be remembered that X is not related to the founder of Y's Man, but soon it will be forgotten and it will be said that his (X's) descendants are known to be descendants of the Man founded by Y but that all of the links are not known. As far as I was able to determine there are never attempts to rearrange genealogies so that they validate membership in the Man. This case is interesting because it is one in which the intervention of a field-worker crystallised a situation which would probably not have come to a head if it had not been for his presence. In all probability no meeting would have been held to discuss and settle the problem, but the end result would probably have been the same. After a few years, the fact that X was a stranger would have been forgotten and all would have believed that X's descendants were in fact related to the members of Y's Man and themselves members.

Quite apart from displaying how new members can be incorporated into a Man by what may be called unorthodox methods, in that they conflict with the statement that the Man is composed of kin, it shows equally that membership in a local kindred cannot be determined by the observation of group interaction. It might be argued that the field worker, being a stranger to the community, was not able to detect diacritical signs which did, in fact, exist. I do not believe that this was the case. After the meeting, in which it was decided to everyone's satisfaction that X would be a member of Y's Man from thence forward, I asked a number of my informants whether or not X was a member of Y's local kindred. To a man they said yes. The majority of these informants had neither attended the meeting, nor had they had time to hear of its results. In other words, all of these people thought that Z was a member when he himself did not. It might be argued that, as the majority of the population believed him to be a member, he was but, as long as he did no accept the fact, it would be seen to be wrong to argue that he did belong to Y's Man.

It is not uncommon to find single man or an elementary family living with a group to which they are not related. Their interaction with the group will be such that it would be impossible to discover that they are strangers to the local group, except by the collection of genealogies or by direct questions. Such strangers are not barred from any of the communal activities nor from any of the rights and privileges enjoyed by other members of the local group. If they remain settled long enough with the local group they will no doubt become assimilate as was the case for X.

It would have been interesting to find a case in which a man claimed membership in a Man and the other members refused to honour his claim. Unfortunately such a case was never encountered and it is doubtful if it would ever arise, at least today, since there seems to be no advantage to be gained from such membership.

Each Man has as a head the oldest male member. The office of Man head is one of long standing. None of my informants ever suggested that there was a time when it did not exist. There are no installation rites. When a holder dies, his successor, who is of course known to al, automatically assumes the rôle of Man head. As the relative seniority of all members is known there are never disputes regarding succession.

It is conceivable, though such a case was never encountered, that a man who was not the oldest of the group could be head. This might occur if a man older than the acting head were to become affiliated to the Man through immigration. The new member would not be made Man head unless the incumbent were to die.

The office of Man head bears no title. The members may refer to the head as "Nor Talli" (meaning Big Man), a term which may be used to refer to any senior male.

Of the six Man heads in Warwar, four trace descent from the apical ancestor through males, one through females and one is unable to trace such descent.

The duties of the head are to keep the peace within the Man, to represent his members in case of disputes with members of other Man, to supervise the distribution of the estates of deceased members, to act as a link in the chain of communication between the village chief and/or hamlet head and the numbers of his Man; and, finally, to play a rôle in the distribution of sacrificial offerings on ritual occasions. We have already described the rôle of the Man head in the allocation of farm-plots and house sites to needy members.

The head has no physical sanctions by which he is able to maintain peaceful relations between the members of his Man. Because of his seniority, he is often able to mobilize public opinion against those who are the cause of bickering within the local kindred. This is the strongest sanction that he has at hand. In some cases, Man heads are feared, informants saying that they have strong magical powers and some going so far as to say that they may be witches. These powers are not exclusively held by Man heads as they are sometimes attributed to senior males who are not heads of local kindreds.

In settling disputes the Man head plays an important rôle. If the dispute is between two members of the same Man living in the same compound cluster, he (the Man head) will in all probability not be called in to arbitrate. If, however, the disputants live in different clusters he will be the chief arbitrator. His aim is not so much to give decisions as to suggest a solution which will be acceptable to both contending parties. The procedure in these cases is that the plaintiff is first allowed to state his case, then the defendant. When both have been heard, questions are asked, either by the Man head or the members of the audience - whether affiliated to the Man or not - and the antagonists themselves. In most of the cases that I was able to observe, it quickly became obvious which of the two, the plaintiff or defendant, had public opinion on his side. After all have been allowed to air their views, the Man head proposes a solution. If both agree the case is settled. Frequently, the one who feels that he is getting the worst of it continues to argue his case, hoping to get better terms. Sometimes he is successful. If not, he normally accepts the first decision. I was told that sometimes one of the two parties refuses categorically to accept the verdict. In the past a Man head, with the consent of the head of the Memin of the one who refused, might exile the latter or order that the sasswood ordeal be given to him. Today this is impossible and if one of the contestants refuses, the case is adjourned until a later time. During the long recess, public opinion works on the recalcitrant to accept the decision and normally he will do so or move away from the hamlet to another village.

Should a dispute take place between residents of two Man located in the same hamlet, the rôle of the Man head is complicated: he may be said to act partly as attorney for his Man member and partly as an arbitrator trying to arrive at a solution acceptable to both parties. I have frequently been told that the Man head should not propose an unjust solution in order to benefit his fellow member. He may, during the inquiry, help to bring up points which will show his kinsman in the best possible light, but, when the time comes for proposing a solution, it must be done with the aim of seeing that there is fair play. Normally, this aim is successfully attained for, in every case observed, the head of the two Man involved agreed upon the solution as did both the plaintiff and defendant.

Finally, in disputes between members of two Man located in different hamlets, the heads of the two Man involved do no more than act as attorneys for their kinsmen and of course as important members of the group of elders which leads public opinion.

The rôle of Man head offers no material advantages. He is paid no salary by the Administration, is given no gifts by members of his Man, an finally is not in a better position to recruit labour from among his fellow members than are other senior male members of the group.

When the duties of the Man head are given by informants they say that he should supervise the distribution of the estates of his fellow members, but it is rare for him to do so. He will only be called in for this task if there is a dispute among the heirs, in which case the dispute will be settled as are all other disputes between members of one Man; or, if the deceased has no close kin in the Man in 'which he lived, and lived alone, that is in an isolated compound cluster, the Man head's advice will be sought on how best to divide the estate. Cases of this sort are few and far between; none was observed by the anthropologist. The heads might take the lion's share of such an estate, thought the more respectable method of coping with such a situation would be to divide it equally among all of the senior males of the group.

The Man's head's rôle as a link in the chain of communication from the village chief to the members of his local kindred is a new one. It has only become operative in the past fifty odd years, since the European Administration installed village chiefs.

When the chief learns of new regulations or of any information that is of relevance to the villagers, he should notify the Kassalas[46]. These inform the heads of the Man in their hamlets. When communal tasks are assigned to the village by the administration the chief informs the Kassalas and they decide what portion of the task will be performed by each hamlet. Once this has been accomplished the work is further subdivided if the hamlet has two Man. Each Man is allotted portion of the task. It then becomes the duty of the head to see that the task is performed by his group. Finally, in his rôle as link in the communication system, the Man head is responsible for collecting tax from the Man members and handling over the total to the Kassala.

I shall not describe here how the Man heads distribute among the numbers of their Man the food that has been sacrificed, as this will be discusses in the section on village and village rites.

The amount of authority that a Man head is able to wield is variable. Perhaps the major factor is the personality of the head himself. The Mambila say that the best heads are those who speak softly, have sense (which means are aware of traditional practices and follow them), and remain calm in all circumstances. He is a person who does not antagonise anyone in his entourage and does his best to find solutions to problems which arise, as well as attempting to settle disputes before they become grave.

One may divide the six Man heads of Warwar into two categories, namely aggressive and soft-spoken. The latter characteristic is one highly valued by the Mambila of any age or either sex. Three Man heads fall into the category three into the other. With one exception, the aggressive heads wield much more authority than do the soft-spoken ones. The exception was the oldest man in the village who, in spite of being quiet and soft-spoken, was able to exercise as much if not more authority than any of the other Man heads in the village. This was partly due to his age; but also his ability as a peace-maker and his knowledge of traditional practices were known widely and recognised, and this fact made individuals willing to follow his advice when given. The other quiet Man heads are not powerful persons. One is completely overshadowed by a very aggressive senior male in his own Man.

The traditional methods of settling disputes have been little altered since the advent of Europeans. Of course, the sanctions formerly available to impose the will of the community on a recalcitrant member are no longer available but, as conciliation rather than the imposition of sanctions was the aim of the judicial process, the disappearance of the sanctions has brought about little change in that process.

Though Native Courts have been established they are not popular. On two separate occasions and in two villages, one of them being Warwar, I saw medicine being made to ensure that any Mambila who took a fellow tribesman to court would be punished by the ancestors. The Mambila have preferred to maintain their traditional system of adjudication, which they understand, to adopting an alien system which they do not comprehend.

Before turning to the analysis of the functions of the Man, I should like to mention briefly the formal patterns of status allocations within these local kindreds. Incidentally, this same formal pattern is followed in other units of Mambila structure such as compounds, hamlets, villages, etc. According to the formal pattern, a Mambila gains status in his Man by seniority Alone. The relative age of all of the members is known. It is not surprising to find that the olders can place most men in the village on a age scale without lengthy discussions. They were sometimes uncertain about the relative ages of some of the younger men, but recourse to the latter gave a rating which was acceptable to all involved; that is to say the young men knew and agreed on the statements made about each other's relative age.

The fact that a man traces descent from the apical ancestor through men, women or both men and women does not alter his status. A person is not penalised for being unable to trace all of the genealogical stops for himself to the founder of the Man. Strangers living with a group of Man members enjoy the status in that group that their age warrants. Nevertheless, a stranger would be unable to become Man head.

In the discussion of the various groups in the structure we shall find that, if we measure status by the amount of authority than an individual is able to exercise, the allocation of status is not always according to the formal pattern. By and large it is followed but there are exceptions. As in the case of Man heads, the personality factor is an important one in determining any individual's position in the structure.

Nonetheless, if they may be so called, the symbols of status are always allocated according to seniority. For example, a senior man speaking to a younger person may use his personal name, while a junior speaking to a senior would not dare to do so and would use an abbreviated form of the senior man's name[47]. To use in direct address the full name of a man who is one's senior is tantamount to telling him that he is a man of no importance and it is a grave insult. To my knowledge, such insulting behaviour is never resorted to.

In the previous discussion, we have touched upon many of the functions of the Man. This subject therefore needs only be treated briefly here.

If one asks an informant what a Man does, he will say that its primary task is to protect and help its members. The defensive function only appears when a Man member is engaged in a quarrel with a member of another Man in the same hamlet. Otherwise, smaller or larger segments of the structure become involved and the identity of the Man is lost. For example, let us say that A and B quarrel: if both disputants live in the same hamlet but are of different Man then, all of the members of A's Man should support him, and those of B's should do the same for B. It must be remembered here that when an attempt is made to settle the dispute, the heads of the Man of both the disputants should attempt to propose a solution that is equitable and should not be anxious to support their own member to the detriment of justice. If A and B belong to the same Man, but live in different hamlets, then all of A's hamlet should support him and the members of B's hamlet should support him. It might be added here that the Man should help not only its own members but also any stranger who lives in one of the component clusters of the Man, if he becomes involved in a dispute with another Man.

The Man acts corporately on the occasion of hamlet-wide rituals in hamlets with two Man. Members of one Man will sit together on one side of the sacred grove facing members of the other Man. The sacrificial foods are first divided into two equal parts before the two Man heads apportion shares to the members of their own Man. However in ritual no person has a special rôle to play in virtue of their membership in one or the other of the two Man, other than in the distribution of food. The persons conducting the rite do so because they are the most senior persons having the reuiasite knowledge, and for no other reason.

If a resident of a hamlet commits either a sin, crime or both the members of the complementary Man in the hamlet sing shaming songs and jeer at the offender. The latter is not supposed to take offence but he may sing songs in his defence when the others have finished. Occasions on which these sanctions are exercised are social gatherings of all sorts. It is significant that, if a large number of persons from several hamlets are assembled, the wrongdoer's fellow hamlet dwellers will not sing such songs through people from other hamlets may do so. In this way, the unity of the hamlet is maintained in the presence of outsiders.

Shaming songs are sung very frequently. I shall cite but one example: a young unmarried man, living in the hamlet of Ndiel, had several times had intercourse with a girl engaged to a man living in Tscharl. This sort of behaviour is considered to be bad by the Mambila but is not a serious crime or sin. The girl was made pregnant by the man from Ndiel but married the man from Tscharl. On several occasions, just before and after her marriage, persons would sing a song about the Ndiel man's act. The translation of the song is as follows:

"A girl went into the bush.
Why did she go into the bush?
She went to see her friend
And her friend gave her something
(This refers to the child).
And where was her fiancé?"

Neither the young man's nor the girl's name was ever mentioned. In about a half of the songs sung, the name of the wrongdoer is not mentioned and in the other half it is. If the majority of the audience are able to identify the subject of the song, the name is not mentioned as a rule, but if the act committed is not public knowledge the subject's name will come into the song.

Man members are expected to help each other when asked. This help includes assistance in house building and farm work. A man may also turn to fellow members of his Man for help in raising bridewealth. Finally, the members of a Man should see to it that none of their fellows runs short of food. If a man's crop is spoiled by flood or other disaster, or his granaries go up in flame, the members of his Man should help him. Requests for the type of assistance listed above need not be confined to members of one's Man, as any neighbour irrespective of Man affiliation may be called upon. Nevertheless a person is said to feel a stronger obligation to help a fellow Man member than he would assist a person who is a member of another Man.

Before turning to a comparison of the Man and Memin core, I should like to summarize some of the more important features of the Man. These groups are composed largely of a small group of men and their offspring living within the boundary of a hamlet. They are not compact groups for the compound clusters in which the members live are not confined to one part of the hamlet, but rather are frequently dispersed throughout it. The Man's primary functions are the maintenance of the peace within the hamlet, distributing land as well as other forms of assistance to its members. Though conceived of by the Mambila as a kinship group, it is doubtful whether all the members of a Man are in fact related. Finally, the Man may lose members by emigration ad gain them by immigration, as well as by birth and death.

Illus. 5:

Illus. 6:

A Comparison of the "Man" and the "Memin" Core

In the discussion to follow I am forced to rely on my informant's accounts of the rôle of the Memin core in the past, since today it has lost all of its functional significance.

The Man and Memin core are similar in some respects and differ in others. They are alike in as much as both are corporate local bilateral kin groups. We shall now turn to a discussion of their differences.

The Man is the largest co-residential group of kin, while an individual's Memin core includes only a small number of his kin who live in the same hamlet as himself. In other words, some members of Ego's Man belong to his Memin core and others do not.

The two groups differ in scale. The average membership of the six Man in Warwar is 68.3 persons. I am told that in the past the Memin core rarely included more than perhaps ten or fifteen members.

Another difference between the two groups arises from the fact that a person is a potential member of several Man, and he may select the one with which he wishes to become affiliated. This is not the case for the Memin core, as an individual automatically becomes a member of a Memin core as a result of his parents' marriage history, and he may not of his own violation change his affiliation. It is true that if Ego does not get along with his Memin core he may move away, and thus give up active membership, but in so doing he cannot become affiliated with another Memin core.

The genealogies of both Man and Memin core show a predominance of male links and therefore an agnatic bias. This predominance is due to different reasons in each case. The fact that exchange marriage lasted longer than marriages by bridewealth resulted in a larger number of children being born to couples contracting the former type of marriage than to those marrying by bridewealth. Therefore in the past more children belonged to their father's Memin than to their mother's. More males appear in the Man genealogies today as marriage is usually virilocal and sons prefer to live with their fathers, or their fathers kin.

Finally, the principles of recruitment of the two groups differ. Co-residence and kinship suffice to give membership in the Man, where as affiliation with a Memin core depends not only upon residence, but also upon the marriage history of Ego's parents. This last difference brings us to an important point. From the point of view of local organization, the Memin core might appear to be a segment of a larger group, the Man in a hamlet.

Each Man appears to be composed of a number of Memin cores. In addition all of the members of the component Memin cores claim descent from a common ancestor, the Man founder. Nonetheless the Memin cores are not Man segments, since the principle of recruitment differs for the two groups. The result of this difference is that not all Man members are also members of the Memin cores localised in a hamlet. For instance, if A's parents were married by bridewealth, and A lived with his father, he would belong to his father's Man, but not to his Memin core. It will be remembered that offspring of bridewealth marriages are members of the Memin of their mother. The number of persons who belonged to a Man in a hamlet, and not to any local Memin core resident there, was probably small in the past, but due to the loss of the functional importance of the Memin at the present time, the number is large today. Today only 37% of the residents of Warwar, who are actively affiliated with one or the other of the six Man in Warwar, are also members of a local Memin core. That is 63% of members of the local Man are not members of any of the local Memin cores. Rather, their affiliations are with Memin located in other villages.

Another reason for not treating the Memin core as a segment of the Man is that neither group segments. We have already described how fission occurs in the Memin, so that we shall not repeat it here. Neither fission nor segmentation may occur within a Man. This group may lose members by emigration, but this does not result in the formation of a new Man, only in one Man losing members, while another like group gains in its total strength. The Man is thought of, by the Mambila, as a unit founded in the past and persisting unchanged into the future. My informants have often told me that there are six Man in Warwar, and that there will always be six, no more and no less.

The Personal Kindred

An individual's kindred is called his Man by the Mambila; the same term is applied to the kindred with which a man lives and also to his dispersed personal kindred[48]. In the previous discussion we have limited the term Man to a local body of cognates and, in order to avoid confusion in the present exposition, this practice will be continued. The dispersed personal kindred will be referred to simply as "the kindred".

In theory, the Mambila believe that a man's kindred includes all of the persons with whom he shares a common ancestor. It does not embrace persons related through affinal ties.

We know that the Mambila do not trace their genealogies back many generations. The majority know the names of three or four of their grand-parents and the hamlets where the latter were born. They would then also know that those persons who are now living in these hamlets, and belong to the same Man as their grand-parents, are their relatives, hence members of their kindred. Very few know anything about their great-grand-parents and therefore many informants are only able to give the names of three or four hamlets in which they have a number of kinsmen residing.

Some of my informants also know of persons who are recognised as kinsmen but with whom they are unable to trace a genealogical link. The more a man has travelled, the more kinsmen of this sort will be recognised. Some of my widely-travelled informants told me that they had kin in almost every Mambila village in Adamawa Province, while others who had done less visiting recognised as kinsmen only those kinsmen who lived in their grand-parents' hamlets.

The responsibilities that a man owes to his kindred are few ad not binding. If one hears of a kinsman who is in trouble and needs assistance, if possible, one should help him. Peaceful relations should exist between all relatives, and the shedding of blood, unless accompanied by extenuating circumstances, is forbidden. Supernatural sanctions will automatically be brought to bear upon anyone breaking this rule, unless, as mentioned above, he has a legitimate excuse. When inter-village warfare was common this restriction posed a problem for the individual: if his village were attacked by a neighbouring settlement, he should defend it. Should some of the attackers be his kinsmen, he was expected to make an effort not to kill or injure them; but, if in the heat of the battle he did an injury or killed a kinsman, no sanctions would be invoked against him, for his act was aid to be justified inasmuch as he was defending his home community. A man who wilfully sheds the blood of a relative will be punished with illness by his deceased ancestors unless propitiatory rites are performed, and these are not always successful in averting the ancestor's wrath.

In spite of the fact that these duties are said to be owed to all kinsmen, when carrying out one of the above-mentioned obligations towards a relative - not a member of Ego's local group - Ego will specify the relationship to Alter. For example, if Ego's mother's brother dies and he goes to the funeral, Ego will say that he is going to the funeral because the deceased is his kinsman. When it comes to fulfilling obligations towards kin who are at the same time members of Ego's Man, he will say that he is serving a kinsman and not specify the relationship. This stems from the fact that the Man is a corporate entity, while the kindred is Ego's total field of kinship with no corporate characteristics and not thought of as a group.

The amount of interaction between a man and his kinsmen is largely dependent upon two factors: first, the distance separating their respective settlements, and secondly, personal likes and dislikes. Some of the persons living in the hamlet of Ndiel have kinsfolk in other hamlets of Warwar. Of these some frequently visit their kin, while others rarely do so. Two full siblings, whom I shall call A and B, will be used as examples. A frequently visited his mother's brother C, while B rarely did so. A told me that he liked to be with C for the latter was an old and wise man and taught him many things. On the other hand, B admitted that C was both old and wise, but he went on to say that he would rarely divulge any of the knowledge that he had acquired and was for that reason not a "good" man. C told me that A had sense while B did not, and this was the reason that he enjoyed instructing A and not B. Individual likes and dislikes seem to play an important rôle in determining the amount of social interaction between any two kinsmen residing in different hamlets of the same village or in neighbouring villages.

As genealogies are rarely if ever recited, numerous individuals who are in fact related are not aware of it. Several times during my genealogical inquiries, persons who had previously not known that they were kin found that they shared a common ancestor. This information neither elicited any enthusiasm nor, as far as could be ascertained, did it alter the social relationships of the persons involved. Often the two newly discovered kinsmen had been friends for a long time without being aware of their kinship.

The importance for the individual of having kin in villages other than the one in which he lives is evident in at least two situations. When travelling, it is said to be better to stay with kin than with strangers (non-kin). This may be a hang-over from the past, when one was not safe from assault in a strange village unless one had kinsmen residing there and sojourned with them. Most of the Mambila passing through Warwar did in fact stay with kinsmen, though some without relatives in the village had to rely on strangers for hospitality, and appear to have been welcome and well entertained. The Mambila say that it is better to stay with kin if possible since a man entertaining a relative from another village should cook a chicken for his guest and give him the choice bits. This responsibility is not felt by a host entertaining a stranger. Chickens are not always offered to visiting kinsfolk if the host's supply of fowls is limited. In this case the host should explain the situation to his guest.

The other occasion upon which kin may be important to the individual is if the latter wishes to emigrate. It is not uncommon for a man to leave the hamlet in which he has been living, to go and settle elsewhere. The reasons given for taking such action are numerous and will be discussed when describing local groups. Most emigrants choose as the site of their new home a hamlet in which a group of their kinsmen reside. A man will select a kinsmen with whom he wishes to settle not because he likes them as individuals.

It was said earlier that a Mambila is potentially a member of several Man. He, of course, belongs actively to only one at any one time. It is by going to live with kinsmen in another village that he changes his Man affiliation, losing his membership in the one to which he was formerly affiliated, and joining the Man of his kin in the hamlet to which he has emigrated.

The kindred, therefore, acts as a line of defence for the individual outside his local group. The rights and obligations that he has towards his tot 1 personal kindred are few, but may be increased vis-à-vis any part of that total, if he so wishes, by the act of settling with that part. For instance, if a man A living in the village X has relatives in the village Y, his obligations to those relatives are few. If, however, he emigrates from X and settles in Y, the number and intensity of his obligations towards Y will increase.

Kinship Terms

Kinship terms are very rarely used by the Mambila in direct address. During my stay in Warwar I only heard them used twice. In one case, a very old man call the wife of one of his distant younger kinsmen by the term used for one's own wife. Later, he told me that he did this as a joke. The second time that I heard a kinship term used, was at a beer party attended by a number of persons from Mbamga village. One of the men from Warwar addressed a visitor by the term used for a collateral kinsman of the same sex, but older than the speaker. The man who had used the kinship term said that he had done so for he had forgotten the name of his kinsman, whose attention he wished to call, and had therefore used the correct kinship term.

Murdock has classified six main types of kinship terminologies. The Mambila system belongs to what he has called the Hawaiian type, which he defines as follow: "Hawaiian - all cross and parallel (female) cousins are called by the same terms as those used for sisters" (Murdock (1949), p.223). He goes on to say that all groups with this type of kinship nomenclature practise either bilateral descent or are in transition between belaterality and patrilineality or double descent (Ibid. (1949) pp. 228, 235-6, 241). As we have seen, the Mambila ignore the principle of unilineal descent and therefore confirm Murdock's statement regarding the frequent correlation of bilaterality and Hawaiian systems of nomenclature.

Charts III and IV give the terms used in the Warwar district address to cognatic kin, and to affinal kin. The only kin term not included in these charts is Nor-a-ma, which means "my man". It may be used in address to any consanguinal relative, irrespective of age and sex.

The terminological distinction made between senior and junior collateral kin of the same sex as the speaker reflects the distinction made in inter-personal relations between a man acting with a kinsman younger than himself or one senior to him. Seniority alone determines status: irrespective of any other attributes that he might have, a man's status is said to be higher than that of those younger than himself, and lower than the status of his seniors in age. In the formal structure men are said to have higher status than women, and therefore there is no need to show the relative statuses of an inter-acting pair when the two are not of the same sex.

The pattern of behaviour towards all collateral kinsmen being determined solely on the basis of seniority and sex, it is not surprising that these are the only distinctions made in the terminology.

Though each term, more especially those referring to collateral kin, may refer to a wide range and variety of kin, a precise genealogical description can be given by the use of the kinship terminology if this becomes necessary.

For example, in direct address the father's brother's son would be called Be or Dim, depending upon the relative seniority of the speaker and person referred to; but, if the speaker wishes to explain the exact degree of kinship, he may do so by saying : "X", Nyene Be Tel-a-ma". (X is used in this example for the Mambila language has no third person pronoun and in conversation the name of the individual concerned would be used.) The literal translation of the statement is: " 'X', child of the older collateral kinsman of my father". In this case, it is understood that Be refers to brother and not to any collateral kinsmen. When the Mambila describe a certain kinship relationship the terms Be, Dim and Til are used only for siblings: Nyena is used only for offspring, and Tel and Me for parents only.

Illus. 7: Chart No. III

Terms Used for Cognates

Terms Usage
Tel All male lineal ascendants. Talli may be added as a suffix when used for own grand-father or great grand-father.
Me All female lineal ascendants. Talli may be added when used for own grandmother or great-grandmother.
Nyena All lineal descendants irrespective of sex.
Be All collateral kin of the same sex and older than Ego. Among others, includes: FaBro, MoBro, BroSon, SisSon, etc., if they are older than Ego, and Ego is a man. If Ego is a woman, she would use the term for : FaSis, MoSis, BroDa, SisDa, etc., again, only if the latter are her seniors.
Dim The same category of kinsman as is Be, with the one difference that the person addressed is younger than Ego.
Til All collateral kin of opposite sex, irrespective of age.

Illus. 8: CHART No IV

Terms Used For Affines

Terms Usage
Gwana All of the wife's kin and spouses of her kindred who are older than Ego. A wife uses the same term for her husband's kinsmen and affines who are her seniors.
Nyen As above but for persons younger than Ego.
Bvul Wife and female spouses of younger kinsmen, by both males and females.
Ta For female spouses of younger kinsmen by males and females.
Bvulama Be Wife of any man that one calls Be.
Bvulama Dimi Wife of any man that one calls Dim.
Nashiama By a woman for her husband and for her husband's younger kinsmen.
Nashiama Be Husband of any woman called Be.
Nashiama Dimi Husband of any woman called Dim.

Illus. 9:

Rehfisch Thesis - 2 DEC 1996

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