Academic journal article Africa

Doglientiri: An Institutionalised Relationship between Women among the Bulsa of Northern Ghana

Academic journal article Africa

Doglientiri: An Institutionalised Relationship between Women among the Bulsa of Northern Ghana

Article excerpt

This article presents a specific social relationship among women among the Bulsa of northern Ghana. This relation is known by the term doglientiri or doglieni, composed of the words dok, `room', and lie, `daughter'. The partners of this particular relation are a girl, doglie (pl. doglieba, lit. `room daughter') and the `female father' who is a direct or classificatory sister of the girl's father. Doglientiri implies that the elder woman may claim one or several of her brothers' daughters, incorporating them into her household and later marrying them off to her husband or one of his clanmates. The term can also be applied to numerous other relationships between related women (e.g. between classificatory sisters) as long as one woman brings a prospective junior wife into her husband's lineage. In describing the various social implications for gender, affinal and generational relations of this institution, this article aims to shed further light on widespread social categories of the social status of females in patrilineal societies. The revelation of women's roles in their life cycles, roles that are transformative and complex, contradict stereotypes of women as `jural minors'. The major concern of this article is to analyse women's role in society from an actor-oriented perspective by taking informal and less visible processes into account, thus contributing to a better understanding of the complexity of social relations in African societies.

The clear-cut position of a father's sister among the Bulsa is designated by their term of reference ko (father) (Schott, 1970: 26). As a member of the patrilineal kin group, a paternal aunt is a `father' just like any male member of the same generation of that group (cf. Radcliffe-Brown, 1950: 19). Although this implies a certain equivalence of the sibling group with regard to religious and legal matters, women remain under the guardianship of their fathers, brothers or husbands. Jack Goody has drawn the following conclusion for societies like the Bulsa: `In most societies women are jural minors, a fact connected with their reproductive functions. In patrilineal societies they are debarred not only from holding full rights in the major resources of the descent group, but also from acting as agents through which such rights are transmitted' (1959:85 f.). A closer analysis of kinship structure and its relevance to those rites of passage that focus on life and life augmentation(1) allows further insights into how paternal aunts become `female fathers' and, in contradiction of what has been said of their social position, do act and hold rights over major resources, that is, over their brothers' offspring. In view of Radcliffe-Brown's findings on the equivalence of the sibling group (1950), Goody has focused on the MB-ZS relationship in northern Ghana. The joking relationship between a sister's son and his mother's brother that involves `ritual stealing' is based on what he calls `residual claims' (1959: 82) of the sister or mother. `There is in a sense a basic contradiction between the principle of unilineal descent and the unity of the sibling group. For unilineal descent splits the sibling group into the sibling relevant for reckoning of descent and the residual sibling who cannot transmit membership to his or her offspring' (Goody, 1959: 81). Sisters' sons(2) among the Bulsa equally have the right to steal from their mothers' brothers by virtue of the relationship of the mother with her brother, but I would not call it a `residual' claim, nor would I agree that among the Bulsa the sister is the `residual' sibling. A look at the opposite relationship, between a father's sister and her brother's daughter, which is institutionalised among the Bulsa as well, discloses that the society actually depends on women to support their clans by having children. Meyer Fortes, although acknowledging the importance of female fathers in terms of respect (1949: 334), likewise sees the sex of women as their `limitation' rather than regards the specific rights they possess. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.