Tribes without Rulers: Studies in African Segmentary Systems

Tribes without Rulers: Studies in African Segmentary Systems

Tribes without Rulers: Studies in African Segmentary Systems

Tribes without Rulers: Studies in African Segmentary Systems

Excerpt

John Middleton and David Tait

THE six essays that compose this book deal with the maintenance of social order within certain societies in Africa that have no centralized political authority. They are the Dinka, Mandari, Amba and Lugbara of East Africa and the Tiv and Konkomba of West Africa. They represent certain types of uncentralized African societies only. Although they differ considerably as to ecology, size, density of population, genealogical depth of lineages and degree of specialization of political role, in all of them a system of unilineal descent groups is of importance. We consider them as indigenous systems, unaffected by European contact.

Political relations are those in which persons and groups exercise power or authority for the maintenance of social order within a territory. They are twofold. There are first those relations between a given unit and others, which ensure its unity vis-à-vis other units. These external relations may be seen as essentially antagonistic or competitive, and are likely to be those based upon power devoid of legitimate authority, or at least uncontrolled by any superior authority. They are between structurally equal units (nations, tribes, clans, lineages). And secondly there are those relations internal to the given unit, which ensure the cohesion of its constituent elements and its orderly internal administration. These relations are particularly those of legitimate authority and are usually between units arranged hierarchically (king and subject, clan head and clan member).

In the Introduction to African Political Systems three types of political system in Africa are distinguished. The first is exemplified by the Bushmen, where the largest political units embrace . . .

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