The Dynamics of Clanship among the Tallensi, Being the First Part of An Analysis of the Social Structure of a Trans-Volta Tribe

By Meyer Fortes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
CLANSHIP AND RITUAL COLLABORATION

The Significance of Sacrificing Together

SOCIAL ties and cleavages are most conspicuously affirmed in Tale ritual. Ritual collaboration and common ritual allegiances are indices of common interests and mechanisms of solidarity. The core of Tale ritual thought, doctrine, and performance is the sacrifice (kaab). In some situations a libation of water into which a handful of flour has been stirred

kuom, flour-water) is a sufficient sacrifice. In others, and more characteristically, domestic animals (fowls, guinea-fowls, goats, sheep, cattle, and dogs), with or without the addition of beer, are sacrificed. The selection of the animal depends on a multiplicity of factors, such as the relative importance of the shrine at which it is offered, the importance of the occasion, the status of the suppliant, or the group offering the sacrifice. No other situation evokes so vividly and so directly, both for the native and for the onlooker, the sense of the significance, for the Tallensi, of their continuity with their ancestors, and the strength and reality of the moral cohesion of such corporate units as lineages and clans.

To sacrifice together (kab kaabara) is the most binding form of ritual collaboration. According to the ethical and religious ideas of the Tallensi, it is totally incompatible with a state of hostility—that is, with an open breach of good relations. Personal feelings are of secondary importance in this connexion. One can sacrifice with a person whom one despises or dislikes, as long as these feelings do not lead to an infringement of the ties of mutual obligation. But one cannot sacrifice propitiously with someone who is an enemy. This, according to native theory, would cause the ancestors to become angry, for 'as you are towards each other so are the spirits of your ancestors towards one another'. Therefore, if avowed enemies sacrifice together, mystical retribution will follow. To sacrifice together means not only to acknowledge a common spiritual tutelage, but also to eat together of the sacrifice; in short, to unite in a sacrament. Thus it is both an expression and a pledge of mutual amity and dependence.


Ritual Relations in Namoo Clans

As our analysis of the clan structure of Mosuor biis has shown, the final barrier to the complete absorption of an accessory lineage into one of the sub-clans is its exclusion from sacrifices to the founding ancestor of the sub-clan. This is the disability that excludes accessory lineages from the right to hold the chiefship of the sub-clan. But accessory lineages participate in sacrifices to the shrine of the ancestor who is regarded as the founder of that segment of the sub-clan to which they are attached or assimilated. The shrine (bayar) of the founding ancestor of the sub-clan is usually in the custody of one of its segments, whose head (kpeem)

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