Chapter IV



That the Mbembe tribes share a common "weltbild" is to be explained, at least to some extent, by the fact that they also share in common many features of their social structure. This has already been discussed very briefly, but we must now consider the matter in more detail and we may start by considering the descent system, since this is crucial for the understanding of the whole society.


The Minimal Lineage

If we start with the matrilineal system we find that in each tribes the two lower levels of the system are everywhere the same. At the lowest level is a shallow lineage of one to two (dead generations in depth, the members of the senior living generation being either the children of one mother or of one grandmother, as the name for this group, "Ekamanei", (literally "born of one mother") implies. This is the group within which most moveable property is inherited, specifically including yams, money, clothing, house furniture, and such articles as sewing machines, bicycles and guns. Formerly slaves were also inherited within this group and still today the guardianship of slaves is so inherited. The oldest man is the formal head of this lineage, but in practice the de facto leader is usually the most prosperous man in the group. On the one hand the formal leadership is only weakly defined since the head of this lineage, unlike most descent group leaders, is not a priest since the group owns no specific cult. On the other hand the most prosperous man can wield particular influence because the Ekamanei is to some extent a wealth sharing group. This is seen particularly at funerals, for the main heir is chosen from this group [1]. Some latitude is allowed in choosing an heir; nevertheless it is always within the Ekamanei that the choice is made; and this very uncertainty

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helps to give the prosperous man influence within this group. In his case there may well be competition to act as his heir and, since the known wishes of man are taken into consideration in making the selection, hopeful members curry the rich man's favour. More generally significant in accounting for the influence of the richer members within the Ekamanei is the fact that it is primarily to them that the other members must look if they require help from their kinsfolk. In the traditional system the Ekamanei was held jurally responsible for its members. If the individual got into debt for any reason with outsiders it was this group that was held collectively responsible, and today it is still true that if an individual needs financial help from kin it is to the members of this group that he must look. The influential position of the wealthy is, therefore, readily understandable; it is on them that all the others depend.

The position of the Ekamanei as the group jurally responsible for its members is something that must be understood if the whole Mbembe political system is to e comprehended [2]. The rule of the responsibility of the Ekamanei for its members, whether dead or alive, from which stemmed the rule of the heir's responsibility for the deceased's debts, also gave rise to the rule of crucial political significance, that the matrilineal group was responsible for all its members' offences. The gravest offence which a man can commit is the killing of another, whether within the village or within the tribe, and in such a case it was the slayer's Ekamanei which, traditionally, was primarily responsible for paying compensation and for arranging the necessary cleansing sacrifice. Compensation was made by handing over either a female slave or a woman of the lineage to the bereaved matrilineage. Still today, in a case of manslaughter, when the court orders "native custom" to be followed, money payments are made between the matrilineages concerned. The patrilineal group could make no claim for compensation for (as we have seen in our discussion of Ijong) an individual is "owned" by his matrilineage, not by his patrilineage, and it is the owning group which can claim compensation for loss. Likewise it was only the matrilineage which normally had the right to punish individuals, and it was the Ekamanei which, in the last resort, might condemn a persistent offender to death. In such a case the exasperated matrikinsmen might publicly refuse to pay any more fines on a rogue's behalf and the man would be forced to hang himself before all the people of the village.

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The "Ochi"

In all these contexts the group having primary responsibility is the Ekamanei, but the "Ochi", the matrilineal group at the next level, also had, and has, a certain concern. The Ochi is a group which in every tribe is very varying in depth since it is much subject to fission. It may therefore, consist of a single matrilineage found in one village only, or of half a dozen or more lineages dispersed among ten or twelve villages. The exact relationship between the lineages is seldom known as there is no attempt to remember genealogical connections for more than two or three generations. Among the Osopong the Ochi may be called the matriclan since they have no higher matrilineal groups, but among the Adun and Okum such groups do exist so that in these tribes the Ochi is a sub-clan. In order to avoid confusion this group will here be referred to by the Mbembe term [3]

Within the Ochi it is necessary to distinguish between the whole group usually dispersed among several villages, and that part of it within one village, for which the term Ochi "sector" may be used [4]. This sector is often composed of members of different matrilineages. Nevertheless one man, usually the eldest, is recognized as the group's representative in the sense that to him are sent messages concerning the groups affairs and it is his responsibility to transmit them to the other members. In the past if a member committed an offence and his own matrilineage could not pay the whole fine then the sector as a whole accepted some responsibility. Moreover it is said that a rogue was never executed unless the head of his matrilineage had the support of the senior men of the sector in his refusal to pay the fine. Today executions and collective fines have ceased but the sector still accepts some responsibility for all its members, for all regularly make contributions to the burial expenses of members. Sector members do not usually share in a dead member's property but they do share in food and wine provided by the matrilineage at the numerous funeral rites which mark the death.

Within the Ochi as a whole all members are bound by one prohibition for the group is exogamous and sexual intercourse between the members is regarded as incest. The rights and obligations of Ochi members are, however, weaker in general than they are within the Ochi sector. If is unusual for all the Ochi to contribute to a member's funeral unless the deceased was exceptionally influential; but it is normal to inform each village sector of the Ochi, through its senior man, that the death of an Ochi member has occurred, and this man will send a small contribution of twopence or threepence towards the

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funeral expenses. Either the head of the Ochi himself attends the funeral or, later, close kin of the deceased go to make a sacrifice at the shrine kept by the Ochi head.

The leader of the Ochi holds a formal office for he is the priest of its ancestral shrine, a shrine called Afrata, literally, "the stones of the dead") a collection of small stones kept at the priest's house. He is also a priest of Akuwa, an "awka" concerned with ensuring that the dead of the Ochi shall bring fertility to its members, their crops and livestock.

The Ochi has been shown to be very liable to fission. Matrilineages readily claim an independent ritual status by removing a stone from the parent Afrata shrine, and making it the nucleus of a new Afrata shrine, watched over by their oldest man who also acquires the Akuwa cult. Fission may occur simply as the result of growing social distance between lineages. Much more commonly however, fission takes place in the context of sorcery accusations for, as we have said, one defence against Ijong attacks is for a lineage ritually to separate itself from the rest of the Ochi. The lineage itself will not split. Its senior men are those to whom the rest are heirs and, whatever the suspicions entertained about some of the wealthy lineage elders, secession would involve the renunciation of their wealth, a step which no one is willing to take. But property claims are largely confined to the Ekamanei so that, if a lineage as a whole hives off, it has comparatively little to lose, and such defensive secession does take place. For example a serious of illnesses in the matrilineage of Oyom Egbe of Ofodua, Adun, was put down by diviners to the Ijong activities of an Ochi member living in the same village but belonging to a different lineage. Therefore, in 1955, a senior member of the threatened lineage removed a stone from the shrine of the Ochi, and established a new shrine.

It is reasonable to assume that this type of fission can take place more readily today than in the past since, today, individuals are less dependent on the jural support of others within the Ochi sector. In the past it is probable that the desire for freedom from Ijong attacks had to be balanced not only against the desire to inherit property but also against the desire for jural support. It may indeed by supposed that what might be called anti- Ijong fission would, in fact, have occurred primarily where there was already some tendency to ignore Ochi obligations. Today, however, when these obligations have become so greatly reduced, there is no evidence that such factors do enter into the decision of whether or not to separate from the parent Ochi.

Whether or not there has been any change in the rate of fission today, the Ochi. is a small group which, although varying greatly in numbers, seldom includes more than a hundred members. It is named after its priest but also has a name independent of its leader, which it shares with a number of other such units. This is everywhere taken as evidence of a former connection between them, severed as the result of Ijong activities; but the use or lack of use made of such ties varies so much between the tribes that any discussion must be left until each tribe is considered individually.

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Among all the Mbembe, as we have said, residence is patrilocal and rights to land, to houses and to house sites are inherited patrilineally. Moreover when a compound becomes too cramped and a new site must be cleared for dwellings, the usual aim is to choose a position as near as possible to the old compound. In consequence, under normal circumstances, the patrilineal groups tend to be co-residential although, as we shall see, among the Osopong members of the patriclan are dispersed among different villages.

Each patriclan ( Efona, from fon, to beget) is divided into lineages called Enoma (literally penis) which are groups of from two to four (dead) generations in depth. Beyond this genealogical memory ceases and no attempt is made to relate these lineages in accordance with any genealogical charter. Within the lineage, however, minimal lineage segments of one to two (dead) generations in depth may be recognized. Such minimal lineages are not distinguished terminologically from the lineages of which the form a part but it is usually possible to refer to the minimal lineage separately by speaking of its members as the "compound of X", X being the oldest man of the group.

The Minimal Patrilineage

In no tribe are the wider patrilineal groups exogamous, but marriage is not allowed within the minimal patrilineage, except among the Osopong where marriage with the father's brother's daughter is not absolutely prohibited, although uncommon.

Everywhere the minimal patrilineage is the basic land holding group. This is due to the fact that among all the Mbembe tribes the underlying principles of land holding are the same, although these principles have, under rather different conditions, produced somewhat different results in the three tribes. This however does not affect the centrality of the minimal lineage in relation to land.

The main rules are that a man, has, in general, the right to clear and claim as his own any land not farmed within memory; and rights over such land then pass patrilineally. The original man who clears the land has very nearly full rights over the plot for with rare exceptions no one has any claims over it, except claims to certain portions of wine tapped from palms growing on it and to certain portions of game killed on it when it lies fallow.

The one who clears the land will usually divide portions of it among his sons as they have need, this being estimated according to the numbers of seed yams each possesses: for conceptually as we have seen it is this which should determine the size of a man's farm. The boundaries the father makes between his sons should remain even over the periods that the land lies fallow, and should be observed when the plot is next farmed. The father is, however, at liberty alter the boundaries if there should be a radical alteration in the relative number of yams possessed by his sons. The father also has the right to order a palm tree to be cut down for wine even if it is

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growing on land allotted to one of the sons, and conversely a son has no right to fell a palm without his father's permission.

When the original clearer of the land dies none of his brothers has any rights over the land, rather it passes directly to his sons. In the next generation, however, his sons, as a group, do share certain rights in the land they have inherited from their father. The senior brother to some extent inherits his father's rights over the younger brothers and ma make alterations, if it is reasonable to do so, in the boundaries of the plots which his brothers individually farm. He also inherits those rights over palm trees which his father enjoyed.

On the eldest brother's death these rights pass to the next most senior brother, but when all the first group of brothers has die the right to alter farm boundaries and the rights to palms over the whole areas are not inherited by any one man in the next generation. The eldest of these men has rights only over the land which his brothers have inherited from their common father; no man has rights over the land passed from his father's brother to his father's brother's son, no matter how junior the latter may be. Should a man need more land and his father's brother' son have more than enough for his own needs, then the needy man has a very strong moral claim to be allowed free use of the spare land, but he cannot claim it as of right, nor has anyone within the lineage the power to order the land to be made available to him freely.

The other rights held within the minimal patrilineage may be discussed more briefly. It is the group within which there are, or were, particular obligations to give assistance with farm work, especially when new farms are made for the year; for common interest of the group in land makes it particularly appropriate that it should co-operate in bush clearing. It is not, however, by any means the only group involved in co-operation labour.

The Patrilineage

We may now consider the position of the wider patrilineage. Although it is the minimal patrilineage which is more closely concerned with land inheritance, the patrilineage as a whole takes some interest in its members' land in all situations where land is not freely available. The reason for this is that it often happens that members of different minimal lineages within it have inherited farms adjacent to one another. For this reason disputes may easily arise between them and where arguments to do occur over boundaries, or over palm trees, or the operation in practice of the moral right to be given land freely, these matters may be taken to the head of the patrilineage, who is the oldest man within it. He, in consultation with the senior men of the lineage, will give the considered opinion of them all; a decision which is not binding but which carries great weight.

The patrilineage as a whole, unlike the minimal lineage, is seldom a work group even where its members do farm adjacent land, for there are other bases on which communal work is, and was traditionally,

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more commonly organized. Today in many areas large co-operative working parties have largely ceased to operate at all because much use is made of migrant labourers from the North-eastern Ibo tribes who do most of the preparation of farms, the task for which the biggest labour force is required. Even before they appeared on the scene, however, it seems that such work was less likely to have been organized by the patrilineage than by age-sets and associations. Communal work on the growing crops and at harvest time was and still may be organized largely on a kin basis. Those who co-operate are usually men who farm land adjoining the same farm path or who make their yam barns in the same place. They are, therefore, predominantly members of the same patrilineage, but they are not necessarily so. Moreover as we shall see (p.44) the patrilineage has no powers to compel its members to co-operate for communal work. The patrilineage has, therefore, never been viewed as the main group on which communal labour could be organized.

The patrilineage is, however, a ritual and ceremonial group, since its members have considerable interests in common because the lineage is a co-resident group. Lineage solidarity is shown particularly at the funeral of a member. On such occasions the patrilineage must co-operate because like the matrilineage it has a common set of rights and obligations in relation to the deceased and his (or her) other kinsmen, age-mates, association fellows, spouse and spouse's age mates; all of whom the patrilineage must meet at numbers of rites and ceremonies held in connection with burial. Moreover, at the death of a member of the patrilineage, it is expected that all members of the lineage, female as well as male, shall contribute to the cost of a burial cloth and other articles which must be provided by the patrilineal relatives and presented for acceptance or rejection, to the deceased's matrilineage. The members of the minimal patrilineage of the dead will contribute most heavily, but the whole of the lineage should assist. Moreover the attendance in the provision of wine and yams is required at numerous rites which follow at periodic intervals after the burial, and which are attended by all other persons and groups having close connections with the dead. At the death of a member if becomes obvious that outsiders see the patrilineage as a unit, for everyone within it incurs an obligation to entertain the members of his or her age-set, who hurry to give "comfort" in this bereavement.

The patrilineage is a ritual unit also in that its head, its oldest man, is always a priest of the cult of Obassi. This cult, by tradition, was introduced to the Mbembe by traders from Aro Chuko. It was not the main Aro cult - for that is called, by the Mbembe, "Ibinokpabi kw' iseik" , and by them is regarded as having been once a most expensive and powerful "awka" whose acquisition entailed a journey to Aro Chuku, but Obassi seems to have been given by the Aro as a present to good customer for the protection of their compounds. Whatever may have been the Aro beliefs about the nature of the cult, however, it has been universally adopted by the Mbembe as an awka especially fitted to act

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as a messenger between the members of the compound and their common, therefore patrilineal, dead. In consequence offerings are made at the Obassi shrine to the lineage ancestors, Formerly it seems that in all the tribes an annual rite was held, which was attended by the men of the lineage and their wives, just before the first yams of the season were harvested. To-day, in some areas, this rite has largely disappeared but even in these districts joint lineage sacrifices are still fairly frequent for, if a period of two or three years has passed since a joint sacrifice was last made at the shrine, misfortune befalling members of the lineage will be attributed, by diviners, to the anger of the dead of the lineage at being neglected. In addition small rites often take place at the Obassi shrine because diviners frequently prescribe such a rite for a sick infant. In this case the rite will be attended by the parents, the priest, and those members of the lineage who happen to be in the compound at the time.

The solidarity indicated by this emphasis on the ceremonial and ritual nature of the patrilineage is further emphasized by the people's attitude to marriage within this group. It is everywhere said that the unit used to be exogamous, but it is nowhere so today and intra-lineage marriage is in fact approved on the grounds that it prevents the dispersal of matrilineally inherited movable property. It may, indeed, be that if a change really has taken place in the marriage regulations this is due to the increase, since the latter years of the nineteenth century, in the value of movable goods owned. Intra-patrilineage marriages are in practice kept to a minimum by other beliefs. It is thought a bad thing for two sisters (or two girls from the same compound) to marry the same man or even two men within the same minimal patrilineage. Such marriages are said to lead to quarreling between the 'sisters' who should be friends, and to deprive woman of the traditional support of the 'sister's' husband against her own husband in marriage quarrels. It is significant, however, that the patrilineage has sufficient solidarity for its members to aim in principle at keeping their property within it.

The Patriclan

So far it has been possible to make a number of generalizations which apply to the patrilineal organization of all three tribes. It is much more difficult to do this when we come to discuss patriclans. This is primarily because the patriclan among the Okum and Adun is normally confined within a single village of which if forms a major subdivision, whereas among the Osopong each patriclan is dispersed, and the major subdivisions of the village are formed by wards and not clans. It is, therefore, difficult to make statements which apply to the Osopong as well as to Okum and Adun. Nevertheless, if we recognize that within the Osopong villages we are dealing not with full patriclans but with what, following our earlier terminology, we may call patriclan 'sectors' it is possible to make certain statements applicable to all three tribes.

First, it is normal for the unit to be co-resident; and secondly it is strongly associated with land for, although it is not the real land hold-

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ing group, the men of the clan tend to work land in the same area, even if this is only because they farm the bush most easily reached from their quarter of the village. Moreover each patriclan has certain collective, though very limited, game rights over land. Either a special areas is set apart and the Ovat of the clan (the head of the clan if it has its own Ovat, or otherwise and Ovat who is its patron, a term to be explained below) has the right to a leg from every animal killed within it, or the Ovat has more limited rights to portions of game killed on all fallow land claimed by the members of the clan. Whatever the particular system followed, the interesting point is that the very term used for the areas concerned indicates that this right can be claimed by the Ovat only as the representative of the clan, for the word is "E-fona-kpa", which means, literally "the bush belonging to the patriclan".

The clan has also certain general interests in its members' land since any disputes over the land between members of the same clan are heard by the clan head with the help of the patrilineage heads and such disputes normally go no further. Indeed it is noticeable that the patriclan is so associated with land by the people that in reply to queries about the "ownership" of a particular piece of and it is common to give the patriclan of the person concerned and not his own name.

The patriclan, and the Osopong clan-sector, again is a ritual unit because each owns at least one shrine at which sacrifices are made directly to the clan ancestors. This shrine is the A-fona-ta (literally, the stones of the Efona), a small collection of stones which symbolize the dead. On it oblations are poured whenever members of the patriclan gather together for business, and at the shrine special rites may be held either annually or if a series of misfortunes befalls the members. In addition the group usually owns several other awka which it may have acquired for various reasons, but primarily as a protection against witches and sorcerers. Is members feel the need for such protection largely because the group is co-residential and because its members do work farms within the same area. This makes them desire the special kind of protection we have already discussed, that will prevent outside sorcerers and witches from entering to attack the people and their crops and livestock.

If misfortune should make a patriclan wish to acquire a new awka or to have an old one "repaired" then they have to co-operate to pay for this since both cost money. At present day prices "repairing" an awka costs from two pounds to five pounds, while a new one will cost from five pounds to twenty-five pounds, so that in either case, but particularly when a new cult is desired, considerable co-operative effort is needed. The possession of an awka also usually involves at least annual sacrifices, at which all the ale members of the group and their wives should be present and to the cost of which all the men are expected to contribute. Particular misfortunes may also lead to additional sacrifices on the advice of a diviner which involve further expense and further co-operative effort.

The patriclan is also a ceremonial group, being to some extent concerned in the funerals of all its adult members. It is true that the

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primary responsibility for representing the patrilineal relatives falls on the patrilineage but, significantly, the cloth they must provide is called E-fona-bara, "the cloth of the patriclan". Although patrilineal kinsmen who are not members of the same lineage usually make only slight contributions to the cost of the cloth, influential members will be expected to give a few pence towards it. In the case of the death of an important man, each member, daughters of the clan as well as men, must contribute; and a large proportion of both the men and the women of the clan will attend the main funeral rites.

Finally it must be pointed out that the patriclan is always to some extent a political unit, seeking to influence policy within the village and treated as a unit by outsiders. This is shown in two ways: First the right of succession to certain important associations is inherited within the clan, so that if the holder of the office die another must be selected from the same clan, though not from any particular lineage within the clan. Secondly selection of candidates for certain village offices and, today, for certain modern offices, such as positions on local or district councils, is considerably influenced by the patriclan affiliations of the candidates. This can be seen particularly clearly in the case of an election to the modern position of district councilor, for it seems to be the case that if one electoral ward is formed of two or more patriclans the clan affiliation of the aspiring candidates are carefully considered before they are, as it were, officially adopted by the influential men of the ward.

Double Descent: The Problems for the Individual

From this description of the importance of both patrilineal and matrilineal groups it must be clear that double unilineal descent is a very real thing among the Mbembe. Its direct implications for the office of Ovat will be discussed later, but the system is, I believe, of crucial significance for all other aspects of Mbembe social structure.

In the first place it seems probable that it is, in part at least, this particular kin structure which has led to the very strong bonds which exist between age-mates. The solidarity of age-sets, I suspect, has been encouraged by the fact that among the Mbembe when an individual seeks help from his lineage kin he often falls between two stools.

It is, of course, a commonplace of anthropological literature that kinsmen are often reluctant to fulfill their obligations towards each other and slip out of them altogether if possible. Nevertheless it is particularly easy for this to happen in the Mbembe situation. Here a man has his closest ties with his patrilineal kin in his own compound yet, in the traditional system, they are under little obligation to go to any expense on his behalf. Should he fall ill or get into trouble and have to pay a fine or compensation, they need not, indeed they should not, help him for the wealth of each member is jealously watched by his matrilineal kin who are always fearful lest their members' goods should drain away to patrikinsmen. Moreover since the patrilineal groups are not held formally responsible for their members no self

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interest prompts these groups to defend their members from claims made by outsiders.

Those who should take an individual's part and defend him in all such circumstances are, of course, the members of his matrilineage. Sons of the same mother do stand by each other, but matrilineal kin in general are notoriously ambivalent in their attitudes towards each other and the Mbembe provide no exception. Moreover among the Mbembe the elders of the matrilineage are not, as they would normally be in a strictly matrilineal society, dependent on their juniors for farm work or political support. The matrilineal elders are, therefore, particularly unwilling to go to any expense to aid their younger members who can impose few sanctions on them.

It has been argued [5] that in double descent systems, because an individual's ties with two sets of lineal kin are firmly determined, there would be excessive rigidity in relationships were it not that it is possible to manipulate both patrilateral ties with the father's matrikin and matrilateral ties with the mother's patrikin. Among the Mbembe, however, little use is made of lateral ties for the establishment of informal or "manipulative" relationships. Patrilateral ties have a jural nature. Matrilateral ties by contrast seem generally insignificant: they are not formally recognized yet they are seldom informally important. For example in a sample of farmers who proved to be borrowing land from diverse sources [6] not one was using land belonging to his mother's patrikin. This lack of development of informal relationships based on lateral kinship is significant since in this double descent system, as we have seen, the contexts in which reliance can be placed on lineal kin are particularly limited. Clearly, therefore, kin ties alone do not provide great support for the individual in need and it seems reasonable to correlate with this fact that the Mbembe lay much emphasis on the individual's ties with association fellows and age-mates.


The Structure of the Age-Sets

Age-sets cross cut both kin-group and residence ties since they are formed on a village wide basis. From the age of seven or eight, children are encourages to meet on market days with others of the same age and sex. They are expected quite quickly to choose one of their number as their age-set head, the "Ovat kw 'Ogbo" and to meet regularly in the house of the father of the head, in the case of boys, and in the house of the mother of the age-set head in the case of girls. Normally the head, chosen when the members are young children, retains the office throughout life.

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To girls their age-sets early becomes important since each girls' age-set collectively undergoes pre-marriage ceremonies. These are begun when the girls are between the age of nine and eleven. At this time they start a series of abstentions which last, with intervals, for three to four years at least, and in some cases seven years, and culminate in abstention from fufu (mashed yam, the staple diet) for at least a year. A girl should not go to live at her husband's house before these ceremonies are finished. The ceremonies play a great part in increasing the solidarity of the girls' age-sets for not only do all the girls have a consciousness of having undergone privations together but at the end of the period of abstinence from fufu they publicly dance in the village. Since great shame falls on the girl who dances badly the members meet regularly to practice together, throughout the period o their abstentions, at the house of a kind of dancing master. It seem probable that it is these ceremonies that form the basis of the girls' firm attachment to each other, and, indeed, this bond between the age-mates of one village may be one reason why, as we shall see, women prefer to marry within their home village.

For boys there are no puberty rites and their age-set membership does not really become important until they are in their late teens and begin to marry and assist the rest of the villagers in communal work. Traditionally work by age-mates was very common and was performed either by the whole age-set on behalf of the community, or by smaller groups within the age-set on behalf of individuals. Young men especially took small groups of their age-mates to assist their parents-in-law. In less certain days, moreover, the age-sets played a considerable part in guarding the villages and each age-set had to stay in the village on one day in the six day week to protect it from enemy attack, from thieves and, in the dry season, from fire. Today public works such as the clearing of farm paths or the cleaning of the village or the provision of labour and materials for schools or dispensaries may be organized on an age-set basis.

Age-sets, therefore, play a significant part in the public life of the village, a part which, as we shall see, various somewhat between the tribes but which always implies that there are strong ties between age-mates. The strength of these ties becomes even more obvious, however, when we examine the ties with each other which age-mates have independently of their collective obligations to the village.

The Bonds Within The Age-Set

In the first place every funeral is an occasion for interaction and conviviality for a large number of age-sets. The age-sets of the dead is most directly involved since its presence is require at a large number of rites and ceremonies which are spread over a considerable period of time. Both men's and women's age-sets are involved but an age-set of men is particularly assiduous in its attendance's on these occasions. This is because they have considerable claims on their member's widow, claims that are much greater than those which can be made against a widower by a dead woman's age-mates, and it is ultimately these claims which bring the group together.

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When a man dies certain of the age-mates select themselves as his official "buryers". A man's "buryers" act as intermediaries in the handling of all the considerable gifts which the widow must make, over a period, to her husband's matrilineage; and the buryers are expected to make a profit on the proceedings. Basing their demands on this belief the rest of a man's age-set claim the right to be fed and wined at the buryers' expense for four to five days following the funeral, as well as on the occasion of the various gatherings which take place later in connection with the post-burial rites. Consequently the death of each member of the age-set is the occasion for considerable interaction between the remaining members.

It is not, however, only the age-set of the dead which is involved in the funeral. All lineage kinsmen are expected to provide a little entertainment for their age-mates and, in addition, each individual is under an obligation formally to bury a "father" and a "mother" for his age-set. The idea behind this is that when an individual's own father or mother dies, (or a relative formally counted as such for the occasion by the lineage concerned) he is put to particularly heavy expense on behalf of his patrilineage and matrilineage respectively, and his age-mates come to his assistance at these times. This in itself is an interesting case of the age-set helping the individual to meet the demands of his lineal relatives. In return, however, the age-set have a right to expect particularly lavish entertainment. The two occasions do not now necessarily coincide. If a member's kinsman dies a bored, hungry and thirsty age-set may descend upon him to demand the entertainment due of a "father's" or "mother's" death even if it is not relative who has died, nor one officially considered to be such by the kin group. Further, as we have seen, whenever a members of the patrilineage or matrilineage dies, and on the death of comparatively important members of the wider kin groups, age-mates descend on their bereaved members to offer their condolences and receive the wine and food which is their due.

It might seem from this account of the way in which age-sets batten on their members that far from supporting the individual they merely make yet further demands upon him. In one sense this is true for often on these occasions the age-set's demands seem very heavy, yet even if they are outrageous they are cheerfully outrageous and they can be made only because of the strength of the bonds between the members. If a death occurs and a kinsman has not time enough to hide his fowls, his age-mates will enter his house, kill as many chickens as they can catch and hand them to his wife to cook for them. The owner must bear this with a good grace. At the same time, however, he knows that if he stands in real need his age-mates will always support him.

Such support is given regularly in cases of illness for, if an individual's matrilineage cannot or will not pay for which is considered necessary treatment, the age-set will be looked to for help which is rarely refused. I have known £10 to be spent in such a case where the sick man was, in fact, a most difficult and unco-operative character. He had several times previously given up courses of treatment

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both with diviners and at the local government hospital, to the considerable annoyance of the age-set which had paid the bills. Moreover an age-set may not merely step in when the matrilineage fails to help a member but, if necessary, the age-set will act to defend a sick member against his matrilineage. If it is believed that a members' life is being threatened by a sorcerer among his matrilineal kin the age-mates may go in a body to the culprit and demand that he cease his activities [7]. The supposed sorcerer will normally publicly renounce any intention he may have had of killing the sick man; but in one case I knew, an elder, who relished his reputation as an Ijinogo, refused to be cowed into such a recantation and the age-set then collected ten shillings to "beg" him to let their member live.

The Age-Set and Marriage

It is in marriage, however, that the individual most noticeably looks to his age-set for support rather than to his kin. Age-mates play a part in their members' marriages not simply by acting as intermediaries between adolescent boys and girls who wish to make assignations or propositions of marriage, but by acting for the individual in many cases in which, in other societies, it would be the kin who would act [8]. The individual's choice of marriage partner does to some extent concern the kin groups. Marriage within the matrilineage and the Ochi is forbidden; conversely, there is a feeling that marriage within the patrilineage is a good thing. In addition, as we shall see, the whole village feels itself to be concerned, at least to the extent of encouraging village endogamous marriages. Nevertheless, provided the marriage conforms to certain general rules, little further interest is taken it it by the descent groups. The very fact that most marriages do take place within the village means that general concern in who marries whom is rather slight, for marriages are not woven into a system of alliances of political significance for the group as a whole.

The concern the kin groups show in marriage is, by the standards of many other societies, very limited. On marriage the husband has the right of "bridge removal" and his children belong to his patrilineage, but the rights of the father over the children are, of course, not nearly as great as they are in most patrilineal societies. If divorce takes place then sons, from the time they are adolescent, tend to stay with the father; women, however, have always had the right to divorce their husbands and take their young children with them, since ultimately, they are "owned" by their matrilineage. Fathers customarily try to get such children back when they are older, but there is little the genitor can do to attract them back to him, since movable property is inherited matrilineally and the mother's second husband is usually only too willing to give the sons land and house sites if they will stay with him. In such a situation husbands have an interest in making a marriage last, and it is significant that in the event of a divorce it is always the wife who leaves; I came across no instance in which a

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husband had divorced his wife. Nevertheless, as might be expected under such a system, marriage payments to the wife's kin are very low; and what gifts are made do not have to be refunded in the event of divorce. They certainly do nothing to centre the interest of descent groups of the married pair.

Marriage is essentially a matter for the individual concerned. This is shown most strikingly by the fact that marriage payments are made primarily from the groom as an individual to the bride as an individual Significantly, therefore, the amount give is determined partly by their respective age-sets, the transaction is witnessed by the age-mate and in the event of divorce is repaid on their testimony. The kin have little to do with the transaction.

I seems to have been the traditional pattern for a girl, on marriage, to be entitled herself to receive a present from her husband quite apart from, and usually greater than, any payments made by him to her parents. Today these presents to the girl consist of a long series of minor gifts, of food, wine, clothing and cosmetics during the period before the girl goes to her husband's house and, when she takes up residence with him, he must make a cash payment to her which has been increasing over the years and is now about £14-£15 in some areas.

It is indicative of the important part age-sets play in marriage that each pre-marriage age-set of girls decides, as a group, on the amount of money that they will demand from their lovers. Although there may be some slight variations among the members in the amount they actually receive, the age-set in effect works somewhat like a trade union in making use of the girls' collective bargaining power. Age-mates of both husband, and wife are the witnesses to the handling over of these gifts, and are also the main witnesses of the important ceremonies which mark the first week of the formal marriage. Patrilineal kinsmen usually take the girl to her husband's compound but they afterwards depart, and even the close kin take very little interest in the subsequent proceedings. Age-mates of husband and wife, however, spend each day of the first week in the new bride's house.

In the event of divorce the woman's parents are not involved. The will have received minor presents at the marriage, the present to the father being today usually £6-£7, but these gifts do not have to be returned nor are the parents in any way responsible for seeing that their daughter returns the gifts given to her by her husband. The responsibility for repaying the first husband falls on the man who wishes to remarry the woman; her parents are concerned only in that they must say what they were give on the first marriage. When such cases are heard before the village court, however, little weight is attached to what is said by any of the parties concerned, it is from the statements of the age-mates of the pair that those hearing the case attempt to arrive at the facts.

When remarriage occurred after divorce the woman's kin play no part in the proceedings. The men of the patrilineage do not a second time

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take her to her husband's compound, in such a case all the proceedings are organized by the age-mates. There is no direct negotiation between the first and second husbands, nor between the woman and her first husband. Instead the age-mates of the second husband give the money to the woman and her age-mates, who then hand it over to the age-mates of the first husband, who are responsible for giving it back to the man himself.

The age-mates of the husband act as intermediaries in a rather similar way in the event of the death of the husband, although in this case they act between the widow and her age-mates on the one hand, and her dead husband's matrilineal heir. On the death of the husband the widow, as we have noted, must make substantial gifts to this heir, the underlying thought being that the gifts given by the late husband to the woman constituted property that might otherwise have come to the matrilineage. As the marriage has been partially dissolved by the death of the husband [9] the matrilineage attempts to reclaim the bulk of the value of the gifts. Before the husband can be buried the widow must make gifts of cloth and money to his matrilineal heir. She does not, however, meet the heir in person; rather her gifts are made with the support of her age-mates (and sometimes with the financial assistance of a brother) and are given to her husband's age-mates who take them to the heir. In this transaction the husband's age-mates act primarily on their own behalf, for they help themselves to part of the widow's gift but, nevertheless, they act also in the widow's interests for they do something to protect her from the avarice of her husband's heir. He controls a very strong sanction since it is believed that the dead man's displeasure will fall on the widow unless the heir formally accepts her gift and presents it, with prayers, before the corpse. In the last resort, however, the husband's age-mates can so sway public opinion that if they say adamantly that the widow has given all that should be required of her the heir is virtually forced to make the necessary prayers.

After the actual burial a series of rites take place before the widow is allowed to leave her husband's compound, and again before she is allowed to remarry. On almost all these occasions the parties principally concerned are the age-mates of the widow and the age-mates of her former husband. When she finally remarries the new husband must make payments to the first husband's heir, in much the same way as the man who marries a divorcee must make repayments to the first husband himself. Again, the gifts are not made directly but are conveyed to the heir by the age-mates of the dead man.

As a corollary of the stress on the bonds between age-mates, the adultery of a man with the wife of a member of his age-set is regarded with as much, if not more, horror than incest within the matrilineage. The Mbembe have no special terms for prohibited sexual relations, but intercourse with women in all these categories is "Epyewa"

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that is "very bad", or "disgusting": a man who would commit such an act is a worthless person "like a goat", an animal which here, as in Mediterranean societies, symbolizes unbridled sexual licentiousness. We cannot, of course, speak of intercourse with age-set wives or patrilineage wives as in any strict sense "incestuous" but must regard it in Goody's terms as "group-wife adultery" [10]. Whatever the term we use, the strength of the Mbembe reaction to any such act within the age-set must be regarded as an index of the solidarity of the group. It is, in fact, regarded as a heinous offence and leads to the ostracism of the man concerned. The offender is only accepted back into the group on payment of a considerable fine and, if he should be unrepentant and refuse to pay, he may be formally expelled from the group. This isolates the offender to a very considerable extent and even today an individual expelled for any reason from his or her age-set is normally brought to heel within a short space of time; even although the expulsion never directly affects his other ties.

The fact that this sanction can be used thus, however, shows more clearly perhaps than anything else the extent to which age-set membership is something which is of value primarily to the individual. It would be difficult to imagine expulsion from the age-set being used as frequently in East African societies, sincere here age-set membership above all defined the individual's role in his society and he could not be expelled from his set simply because he had displeased the other members, for this would have been too socially disruptive. Among the Mbembe, however, it is possible because although age-sets are used for public works it is primarily because of their value to the individual that they are important. They provide him with a bulwark of supporters in situations where his kin are indifferent to his fate or even opposed to him.


Associations and the Descent System

Associations among the Mbembe seem also to owe some of their significance and many of their particular characteristics to the descent system. Associations are of course widespread in this part of Eastern Nigeria and occur in societies with very varying kin structures. It would, therefore, be as wrong to suggest that associations owe their existence among the Mbembe to the system of double descent as it would be to suggest that this system gives rise to age-sets. Nevertheless it appears that the kinship system of the Mbembe has profoundly influenced the structure of the associations.

In the first place it may be the case that the popularity of associations

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in general and particularly the enthusiasm with which people welcome new one is due, in part, to the individual's need for the support of non-kin which we have already discussed. This enthusiasm for joining clubs can be seen most clearly in the case of associations which are centred on a particular dance and have no cult which might attract people to join for specific supernatural advantages. If a new dance is introduced into a village and achieves any measure of popularity it soon becomes the centre of a new club, for people pay a small fee which then gives them the right to take part in public performances of the dance. This, however, is not the limit of their involvement with the new group for it becomes a convivial club which meets to eat and drink, if possible at a non-member's expense, when any member dies and sometimes when the relatives of members die. Although many such associations are ephemeral it is possible for them to retain their popularity and so grown in strength that from such small beginnings they achieve a considerable measure of influence within the village.

There is an even clearer general relationship between the descent system and the associations system, however, for the associations have played, as we shall see, a large part in the exercise of social control within the village. The reason seems to be first that they are more appropriate bodies than the kin groups to exercise this control, and secondly that it must have proved particularly easy, give the descent system, for a considerable degree of direct, open control to be exercised by the associations.

First we may consider the argument that associations were the more appropriate controllers of the village. There is an inherent reason, given the Mbembe kinship system, why the descent groups could not have proved convenient units through which to exercise control over the whole village or take decisions for it. First double unilineal descent is inimicable, as we have seen, to any strong interest in the tracing of far-ranging genealogical connections and this is probably one reason why there is no belief that the patriclans, which make up the main residential kin groups within a village, are ultimately linked by patrilineal ties. Given this and given also that the patriclans of a village are, of course, normally competitive, it is easy to see one reason why control should not be overtly based on patrilineal kinship. These patriclans naturally unite in the face of external threats but when they do so it is not in terms of patrilineal unity but simply in that of residential loyalty. Therefore, when matters arise in which people must be called upon to place the good of the whole village before sectional interests, the right to make such a call could scarcely be founded on authority based on patrilineal descent. It must be more widely based on some organization that can be held to represent the whole village not the sectional patriclans; and it is the associations, whose members are drawn from all the patriclans of the village, which can provide such a basis.

Secondly the control of the village could not readily be exercised through kin groups because only the patrilineal groups are large enough to have formed efficient units for the exercise of such control

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and the leaders of these groups did not have the authority to coerce their members. As we have seen it is the matrilineal, not the patrilineal group that is responsible for the individual, and the matrilineage is always ready to object if its members or its member's property are threatened by their patrilineal kin.

Proof that the patrilineal kin groups must have been relatively powerless to coerce their members seems to be contained in the traditions which suggest that the patrilineage could not itself take action even when it was a matter of making men fulfill their patrilineal obligations. It is said that formerly, when it was wished to punish young men for failing to work for their patrilineal kin, the punishment was imposed not by the patrilineage but by certain associations which, in each village, had responsibilities for organizing work. The primary task of these associations, generally ogbodu or Nyankpe, was to mobilize the village labour force on behalf of individuals who hired the associations for this purpose. Such an association however also had the indirect power to force a young man to work for his elders within the patrilineage, a task which was accomplished through the associations right to beat up non-members. Ideally all men had to join such an association, but a youth was normally dependent on his father for his entry fees and until these had been paid the association's maskers had the right at any time to attack him, simply on the grounds that he was a non-member. It seems, however, that a youth who remained sensibly obscure was in little danger of attack unless his father or other close patrikinsmen lodged a complaint against him for failing to help them in their farm work, a step said to have been commonly taken against any young man who was unco-operative.

Had the father or father's brother taken action against the youth through their patrilineage then the young man's matrilineal kin would have been in a position to claim compensation. The matrilineage, however, could not take action against village-wide association even although its activities were recognized as supporting patrilineal claims, for the association would be too powerful. It is significant perhaps that in a folktale about a cruel father, who unjustifiably brings the association to beat up his worthy son, the son turns to his mother's brother for help. Although the latter is not usually a benevolent figure in folk-lore, in this context he does step in to save his nephew from his father not, however, by threatening the would-be attackers but by paying the young man's entry fees to the association. These work association may perhaps be regarded in one respect, therefore, as unions of senior men who acted together against young non-members because it was only in their role as association members that the elders could coerce the junior members of their patrilineages.

It is tempting to speculate that this form of sanction may have arisen due to the development of the yam trade in the nineteenth century, in the latter part of which these associations appear to have been introduced. The yam trade must have led to an increased in yam growing so far as this was possible and therefore, perhaps, to unaccustomed demands on the labour of sons. These had a recognized obligation to help their fathers but can have had comparatively little interest in

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working to increase their fathers' wealth since this would ultimately be matrilineally inherited. The coercive work associations may well have been the answer of senior men to this problem. However this may be, the fact that they did take such oblique action when they merely wanted to force their sons to do more farm work suggests that the patrilineal groups could never have proved efficient instruments of social control at the village level.

Since the matrilineages within which jural authority lay were too small to be efficient units for controlling the village it is understandable that associations should play such a vitally important part in village life. It is also arguable that it was just because the jurally responsible groups were so small that the associations were able to exercise a close control over individuals which was not socially disruptive.

If a villager were accused of an offence by an association it was, of course, his matrilineage which was held responsible for his behaviour. Associations were made responsible for detecting particular offences and were given the right to fine anyone they could catch breaking a particular rule, stealing for example, or disobeying some order passed in the village. The associations normally imposed a "fine" seizing any animal, usually a sheep or goat, at random and eating it; and it then became the responsibility for the offender's matrilineage to compensate the owner (recalcitrance on their part could of course always be met by the seizing of more livestock actually belonging to members of the group). Because the matrilineages were so small they could not resist the associations, so that close control over individuals was possible. Moreover because the matrilineages were so small, action taken by the associations against them was not potentially socially disruptive. It seems obvious that had the associations had to take action, say against the large, co-resident patriclans, it would have been more likely to lead to trouble within the village. The patriclans are the main structural components of the village and the killing of an animal "against" one such group might have led to disturbing inter-patriclan quarrels had the offending group subsequently refused to compensate the animal's owner. Against a matrilineage, however the association could act without running these risks.

It is perhaps an indication of the ease with which associations could exercise their authority that there is no suggestion that their masked dancers, found in all important associations, were in any sense supernatural beings. The are not thought of as spirits nor as being possessed by spirits but are simply regarded as being men in disguise who at times were awe inspiring because they were for the moment the embodiment of the association's authority. This frankness may, in part, be due to the Mbembe world view which finds little place for spirits; nevertheless it also suggest the absence of any need to bolster the associations; authority against possible opposition.

Finally it is quite clear that Okwa, the most powerful association in each Mbembe village, owes its form indirectly to the system of descent. Okwa owes its power, in part, probably to the fact that it does

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provide a central organization in a situation in which there is no genealogical charter to form the necessary basis for such an organization based on kinship. More particularly, however, the matrilineal inheritance of moveable property encourages village endogamy [11], and Okwa's position stemmed from this fact for its traditional role was everywhere connected with the ideal that women should marry within the village.


In the first place, under the indigenous system, Okwa in every village had the right to prevent a girl from contracting her first marriage outside her home settlement. If she ran away to join a man in another village then at her home Okwa imposed sanctions on her matrilineal kin. These kin could induce her to leave her husband by threatening to disown her, an immensely powerful sanction. Okwa did not seek to prevent a widow from contracting a marriage outside the village, perhaps because she might be expected to have produced already an heir for her matrilineage who would remain within the village. Moreover a woman thoroughly unhappy with her husband might, as we shall see, leave him and go elsewhere to marry. Such marriages, however, were permitted to continue only on condition that the extra-village husband paid certain dues to Okwa.

Formerly if a widow or divorcee did take up residence with a husband in a different village she would be persuaded by her matrilineage, under threat from Okwa, to return to her home and her husband had then to come to fetch her. Before he was permitted to take her away again he had to pay a fee to Okwa. Further, when a new head of Okwa was to be installed, or when a man succeeded to the office of Ovat, all women married outside the village were forced to return to it and before their husbands were permitted to take them home again the men had, once more, to make contributions to Okwa. If any husband refused to pay Okwa broke up the marriage by forcing the woman to remain within her own village.

Okwa had, therefore, this basic measure of authority over women. In addition, as a kind of natural extension of this right, it exercised other controls also over a woman's freedom in marriage; controls which were probably necessary just because marriages was basically endogamous within the village. Okwa had the important additional right that it might prevent a woman from leaving her husband and marrying a different man in her home village; if a woman left her husband she might remarry only in a different village. This rule was consciously aimed at preserving the unity of the village by preventing open rivalry within it over woman; and the reason for the rule is fairly obvious for where marriage is endogamous within the settlement divorce and

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remarriage within the group must raise particularly serious problems. Okwa seems to have made some attempt to preserve marriage from breaking up because a woman dissatisfied with her husband might go to the head of Okwa with her complaints and he would then try to make the husband amend his ways. In the last resort, however, Okwa could not prevent a woman from leaving her husband, but if she did so it forced her to marry elsewhere.

It might seem that this rule undermined Okwa's central purpose of encouraging village endogamy. To some extent this may have been the case, the reversal of the association's general policy being due to the fact that it was necessary to have some kind of safety valve if remarriage within the village were normally prohibited. On the other hand the main effect of the rule was probably merely to restrict divorce. Even to-day women show a genuine preference for marrying at home despite the absence, under modern conditions of any compulsion on them to do so. In fact between 65% and 90% at any one time are married within their home villages, and formerly their desire to remain at home may well have been even stronger. The rule that women who left their husbands must live outside the village must therefore have acted as a strong deterrent to divorce.

Okwa had other types of authority, as well as its authority over women. In particular it was the only association with authority to to issue general instructions to the village as a whole. In each village there is the "E-kwa-ta", the "Stone of Okwa", an up-ended boulder having perhaps some phallic significance. It is not the site of any sacrifice; rather it is the symbol of Okwa's authority. It may be touched only by a member of Okwa. When orders had to be passed to the village as a whole, orders for instance relating to public works, the orders were shouted first by a member of Okwa standing beside the stone. If orders were issued by members of any other association it was done only with permission of Okwa.

Nevertheless it seems clear that Okwa's authority ultimately stemmed from its rights over women. It is significant that although today it is only the power to issue general orders that remains to the association, its authority over women having been speedily abolished by the Administration, the people themselves still emphasize that Okwa's power rested on its rights to control marriages. Even when asked what was symbolized by E-Kwa-ta, the stone so closely associated with the giving of orders to the village, the people said it represented Okwa's power over women.

It may be objected that it is wrong to see too close a connection between double descent and the pattern of Okwa's authority since the Yakö who have a similar descent system have no such association. Since association spread so rapidly, even between hostile peoples, it might be argued that if Okwa had owed its position to the kinship system, a similar organization would surely have been found among the Yakö also. Among these people, however, the temptation for women to marry outside their villages must have been very much less than it was among the Mbembe, because each Yakö village was politically

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completely independent and, in fact, at enmity with its nearest neighbours. Movement between the villages was, therefore, very much less than it was among the Mbembe. Indeed Forde [12] says that it was, in general, only the people of Umor who married women from other villages. There was, therefore, among the Yakö perhaps no overriding need for the senior men of the village to unite in order to preserve village endogamy, and consequently no development of one association as the keystone of the political organization. The different political situation among the Mbembe, however, meant that to maintain village endogamy in face of the greater ease of movement between villages some specific institution was necessary and to this need Okwa was the universal answer.

Looking at the Mbembe associations in general, therefore, we see that although their existence is, in part, due simply to the fact that they are a common feature of the "cultural area" in which this people is located, their form has, to a great extent, been moulded by the particular kinship system found here. At the centre is Okwa whose influence seems to stem from its ability to maintain village endogamy and its usefulness in providing a basis for some central organization. Then there is a multiplicity of other associations. Some like Eberambil, the warriors' association, or Nyankbe or Ogbodu the work associations were constant over a wide area; others with various names played different roles in different village. All, however, owed much of any influence they might possess to the ease with which it was possible to exert pressure on the small matrilineages, and to the fact that in this double unilineal system it was crucial that the individual should establish close ties with non-kin.


The Village as a Unit.

We have described all the main institutions within a village and we must now consider the village as a whole, and particularly those contexts in which it acts as unit. The fact that it has considerable solidarity and does at times act as a unit has been implicit in much that has already been said. The very fact that it has been necessary to speak of matrilineal and, in the case of the Osopong, patrilineal, "sectors" indicates the existence of strong village feeling since it shows that kinship rights and obligations are modified by the existence of villages ties. The fact that all members of the village of the same age belong to the same age-set again shows the significance attached to the village. So also does the organization of associations for, although it is true that not all associations throughout the three tribes are organized on a village wide basis, there are some associations in every village which are so organized. Moreover, as we shall see, any new association introduced into the village must have the permission of the representatives of the whole village before it can dance publicly, and this is vitally important since it is on the anticipation of

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such displays that members are recruited. The clearest indication of the importance attached to the village as a unit has, however, arisen out of the discussion of the Okwa association, for Okwa, in the indigenous system, was concerned essentially with the village as a whole, preventing the women from marrying outside it and limiting divorce within it.

We have earlier seen something of the interconnections between the system of double descent and the other institutions among the Mbembe. It is clear that there is also a connection between the descent system and village unity through the emphasis on village endogamy to which the descent system leads. It is not merely that is has fostered Okwa as a form of central organization but that, more directly, the emphasis on endogamy reduces the ties between villages and makes, therefore, for greater hostility between them; hostility which in its turn, strengthens intra-village unity.

As I have noted elsewhere Cites between intermarrying groups are not necessarily friendly, but, as Evans-Pritchard says of the Nuer 'Exogamous rules...prevent the formation of autonomous agnatic groups and create extensive kinship ties within and beyond the tribal structure. This kinship system bridges the gaps in the political structure' [13]. Even when the relationship between the intermarrying groups is not automatically friendly, intermarriage leads to the development of consanguineous ties between the member of the groups which may help to mitigate the hostility of their members. At the very least each exogamous group depends on the existence of nearby groups from whom it is possible to get wives, but where there is a preference for endogamy there is no such dependence on other groups[14]. The sense of self-sufficiency that pervades the Mbembe village and its relative isolation from other villages, an isolation on which much of its sense of unity depends seems, therefore, to be one more result of the system of descent and of property inheritance.

In such an atmosphere any disputes over land that occur between members of different villages quickly become translated into intervillage quarrels. In the indigenous system real shortage of land was probably rare and the boundaries between the villages of one tribe were never closely defined, but where disputes did occur fights commonly resulted. Today fights are perhaps fewer, but village solidarity is displayed in land cases. These care frequently fought in the courts on a village basis despite the fact that it is the minimal patrilineage which is the primary land holding unit. Indeed, it is a good index of village solidarity that people should be so willing to collect money on a village-wide basis to fight land cases against neighbouring villages for the land, once secured, will pass almost entirely into the hands of some very small group or groups within the village.

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The Village as a Ritual Unit

Perhaps the clearest indication of village solidarity emerges when we consider the place of the village in Mbembe cosmological belief.

In the first place it is most significant that the people believe that when sorcerers attack victims in the village the main attack is always made by outsiders. It is, of course, axiomatic that the person primarily responsible for the attack is the one who offers to the sorcerers the soul of the victim, in other words a matrilineal kinsman who may well be living in the same village. The attack, however, is thought necessarily to involve collective action by a group of sorcerers and it is here that outsiders are thought to play an important part. The people's rationalization of this belief is itself significant. They explain their belief that a group of sorcerers always contains men from several different villages by saying that a man who joins Ijong likes to join a group whose members do not come from his own village. This, it is said, is because the man fears that when he joins with his fellow sorcerers in their cannibalistic feasts he might be too squeamish to accept his due portion of a victim from his own village. To the observer the belief is of interest also because the constant complaint that outside sorcerers are coming to kill members of the village would seem to be a projection on to outsiders of the hostility that people feel for the members of other villages.

Such, beliefs are not merely an expression of village solidarity but increase it, for misfortunes occurring within the village led the inhabitants to co-operate together to take action for their own protection. The case already quoted of the village elders who united to open fire on attacking sorcerers is of course an extreme one, but it is common for a village to unite to buy defensive cults at considerable cost. Moreover once such a cult has been acquired representatives of the whole village, while they retain faith in it, meet together at least annually for sacrifices at its shrine.

Finally village unity is perhaps expressed most succinctly in the belief that each village has its exact counterpart in the world of the dead and that tit is to this mystical twin that the dead from the village go, traveling by a road peculiar to each village. So concrete is this idea that near each village there is a spot, usually a spring or a pool, that is believed to be the beginning of the path to the twin village. The full significance of this belief, however, we must consider later.

Other features of the structure of the villages must also be left for later discussion when we look at each tribes separately for there is, too much divergence between the villages of the different tribes for us to be able to pursue the matter further here. Instead we may now consider how the various aspects of the institutions we have been considering influence the office of the Ovat.

[1] When a member dies an "heir" ( Oyongoyonge) is appointed from the Ekamanei to take charge of the funeral and to distribute formally the dead member's property. The choice of a particular individual as heir is the result of a complex interplay of factors. The closest relative has some prior right (and obligation) to act as heir; but the position is not simple because the position of heir is not commonly sought after and, probably for this reason, there has developed also a complicating rule that the members of the Ekamanei, whatever their relationship to the deceased, should take it roughly in turns to act as heir to dead members. The position of heir is often uncoveted because the heir has also the prime responsibility for paying the dead man's debts, and these may well outweigh his assets. Even though the deceased may not actually have been indebted to any individual the obligations on his heir to make gifts to different groups at the funeral are so onerous that the whole of the value of the deceased's property may be consumed in the process. (This indeed is probably why the desire to change from matrilineal to patrilineal succession of movable property has not gained further ground; it is assumed that the responsibility for the making of gifts would be also altered and there is not often any wish to accept this.)

[2] See Harris 1962b.

[3] This term also has a certain ambiguity since it is used for all higher level matrilineal groups also, but for the sake of clarity the term "Ochi" is here used only for the lower level group discussed.

[4] The term "sector" is borrowed from Goody (1962 p7) who uses it to describe somewhat similar groups in the LoDagaba "parish", and in turn cities Hogbin and Wedgewood (1953) as his authorities.

[5] Leach, 1962.

[6] See Harris, ibid.

[7] For a similar practice among the Tiv see Bohannan, 1953 p.48.

[8] This is true of the Yakö also, see Forde 1941 pp.20-35.

[9] Only partially word I have translated as "widow" is Eop'wa which means, literally, the "wife of a dead man". and it is as such that the widow is regarded.

[10] Goody, 1956.

[11] The existence of a preference for village endogamy where valuable rights are acquired through women seems common; see e.g. Fortes 1950 p279, and Leach 1959.

[12] Forde, 1950, p.310.

[13] Evans-Pritchard 1940 p.226.

[14] Harris, 1962 (c) p.97.

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