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 III
PARADIGM OF THE LINEAGE SYSTEM

TALE society is built up round the lineage system. It is no exaggeration to say that every sociological problem presented by the Tallensi hinges on the lineage system. It is the skeleton of their social structure, the bony framework which shapes their body politic; it guides their economic life and moulds their ritual ideas and values. The social life of the Tallensi cannot be understood without a knowledge of the principles that govern their lineage organization.

These principles will be briefly and formally stated in the present chapter. This will give us a paradigm by which to orient our analysis. Something of this sort, though less systematic and abstract, is in the mind's eye of every well-informed native when he discusses the structure of his society or takes his part in public affairs. The schematic analysis given here will be amplified in later chapters and some repetition is therefore unavoidable. In studying a society of this type we cannot avoid traversing the same ground repeatedly from different directions. For the same basic units, relations, and principles of structure lie behind all forms of association and all organized social activities.

A preliminary bird's-eye view of the lineage system is important, also, in another respect. A lineage always functions as a whole. Whenever a lineage emerges in social action it does so as a product of its component parts and of the relations between them; when a part of a lineage emerges in social action it does so relatively to other parts of it and to the whole. Anyone wishing to understand the way a Tale lineage functions must think of it as a field system, in which the behaviour of the part is regulated by its relation to the whole and the behaviour of the whole is a product of the relations of the parts.

From the Tale point of view a lineage is an association of people of both sexes comprising all the known descendants by a known genealogy of a single known and named ancestor in an unbroken male line. From the sociologist's point of view it is an association of people of both sexes comprising all the recognized descendants by an accepted genealogy of a single named ancestor in a putatively continuous male line. It is, in other words, a strictly unilineal, agnatic descent group.

Lineages vary in span proportionately to the number of generations accepted as having intervened between their living members and the founding ancestor from whom they trace their descent. The lineage of minimum span, which we shall call the minimal lineage, consists of the children of one father. The lineage of maximum span, which we shall call the maximal lineage, is the lineage of widest span to which any of its members belongs. It consists of all the descendants in the male line of the remotest common patrilineal ancestor known to the members of the lineage. Whenever we speak of a lineage without qualification to indicate its span, we use the term in the generalized sense of a lineage of any span

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