Kambuya's Cattle; the Legacy of an African Herdsman

Kambuya's Cattle; the Legacy of an African Herdsman

Kambuya's Cattle; the Legacy of an African Herdsman

Kambuya's Cattle; the Legacy of an African Herdsman

Excerpt

A man has died. By the standards of his community, he is rich. He has a number of sons--two by his first wife, and one by his second--who are adult members of the community he has just departed. A young wife (also dead) had two small boys whose interests must be protected. The network of kinship extends further: there are sisters and their families, brothers and their children, daughters and their husbands, grandchildren. All these have interests and obligations.

The dead man is the center of another network, fully as important as the first and more intricate to deal with: a network of economic exchanges, of debts and credits. Cattle, goats, sheep, and--nowadays--money enter into this calculus. The reckoning is intricate, for the rationalizing influence of cost accounting does not exist. Each obligation is an individual obligation; only rarely can a debt be canceled by a credit. All these obligations must be retained in the heads of the men who are to liquidate the estate in accordance with local canons of justice and propriety.

The third network, hardly independent of the other two, we may call social. Men have come to help settle the estate because they have social obligations to the deceased, because they are interested in fair play, and because the drama of the events breaks the natural monotony of a rather humdrum existence. Perhaps, too, they hope to have some small benefice from the legacy.

These ramifications are overlaid by two systems. One is the system of law. There are rules which everybody knows and which are to be followed. Certain rights inhere in certain persons by reason of kinship or economic obligation. A debt is recognized and enforceable. Nowadays the native system of community . . .

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