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 XI
LAND, LOCALITY, AND THE EARTH

Definition of the Bonds between People and the Land

As we have already seen, there is in Tale social organization an intrinsic connexion between every defined social group or part of a social group and a specific locality. Now there are, as yet, no communities in Taleland consisting of aggregations of individuals or families of completely heterogeneous cultural or genealogical origin, whose sole common interest in the locality they occupy is utilitarian, and whose sole bond with one another is their common subjection to a single political authority. As we shall see, even in the new peripheral settlements, which are now, under the pressure of land shortage, being permanently occupied by mixed populations, the decisive bonds of association are ties of consanguineous and affinal kinship. It could hardly be otherwise in a society so homogeneous and also lacking centralized government.

The connexion between community and locality has the three aspects found in all Tale social institutions. It is utilitarian—for men build their homes on the land and get their livelihood from it; it is also morphological, particular units of the social structure being tied to defined localities so that the social unit and its locality form a single entity; and it has a moral and ritual coefficient. Men have moral and ritual relations with one another and with the land in virtue of their occupancy or utilization of particular portions of its surface. We have touched on this in our preliminary remarks on the Tale concept of tεη. We return, here, to the further elucidation of this concept.

The bonds between a community and a locality, or between an individual or a lineage and land, are summed up in the idea of 'ownership' (solam). This concept, which occurs in various contexts, has certain general implications. Where it is a matter of property such as land, or where persons or localities associated with social groups are concerned, to 'own' (so) them means to have responsibilities towards and for them, rights over and on behalf of them, privileges and duties in relation to other individuals or corporate groups in virtue of being the 'master' (daana or -raana) of the land, locality, or person in question. In every case, there is no such thing as purely utilitarian ownership. Utilitarian ownership exists within a framework of the relations of a defined social group to the land, the person, the locality; and this framework, in turn, is held together by a scheme of moral and ritual values and sanctions.

Thus, in the case of land, exercising or acquiring 'ownership' for productive purposes is regulated by clanship and kinship ties and limited by the moral and ritual values of the ancestor cult and the Earth cult. In some circumstances clanship or kinship may be the more important determinant, in others ritual considerations may be the vital factor. The three aspects of 'ownership' may be vested in the same individual or group, or in different individuals or groups. But they are always there.

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