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Chapter VII


In this second part each of the three main tribes, Adun, Okum and Osopong will be considered in detail both because the structure of each is of interest in itself and because it is extremely important to see the extent of the political variation between them.

In the first part of this work it has been argued that there is a marked "fit" between the office of the Ovat and the particular need of Mbembe society for some kind of authoritative peace priest. Indeed I believe that had any of the Mbembe tribes been studied in isolation it would have been possible to have put forward a convincing argument to show that the political relationship found within it, and in particular the precise roles and functions of the Avat, followed necessarily from the basic patterns of the social structure already described. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, for, given this underlying structure, we shall nevertheless see that the form of the office of Ovat associated with it is extremely variable.

This variability is made possible by the fact that although there is a common pattern associated with the office and although there is everywhere much that is common in the relationships between the Ovat and other officials in the society, there is nevertheless room for very considerable differences in detail in these roles and in these relationships. For example although in each tribe there must be those with the ritual authority to give sanctuary to homicides, arrange compensation, cleanse warriors, be the ceremonial eater of heads and make new Okpobam shrines, the pattern of the distribution of these roles in the tribes is very variable. All these roles may be performed by one office holder or by several, or the roles may be separated out among the Avat of different clans and villages. Such differences in the pattern of distribution of these roles are obviously of the greatest significance.

Again, we have seen that there is an extremely close relationship between each Ovat and the Okwa association. This is true of each tribe and in each it is, in most cases, an Okwa member who installs any may therefore depose an Ovat. Nevertheless there are in rare cases very significant exceptions to this rule and in these the Ovat's relationship is with a different official. Moreover even where the one having this authority over the Ovat's is a member of Okwa there is room for variations in the relationship for this official need not necessarily come from the Ovat's own village. The fact is obviously potentially of great political significance.

Finally there is room for great variation in the general political significance of the rites and ceremonies which mark the installation and

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deposition of the Avat. We have seen that in each case the installation constitutes a rite de passage and the Ovat's funeral normally has some distinguishing features but the degree of elaboration of the rites and, what is equally important, the choice of officials to take part in them and the actual parts they play are, again, subject to such modification in detail that their political significance in the different tribes seems almost infinitely variable.

It is not only the degree of inter-tribal variation which demands attention however for the actual pattern of political organization within each of the three tribes is also something of intrinsic interest. Just because the tribes do differ so much and because each is of interest in its own right, however, it follows that the pattern of description of each cannot follow one model. A common pattern of exposition would, of course, have been preferable for ease of comparison but the main features of interest in each tribe are so different as to make it really essential that each should be treated in a slightly different fashion.

In the case of the Osopong the main interest lies in the way in which historical pressures would seem to have modified certain of the basic features of the social structure the patrilineal system and the internal organization of the village in such a way as to have broken down much of the social isolation of the villages which is characteristic of the other tribes. This seems profoundly to have influenced the position of the Avat. Okum, on the other hand, has apparently been relatively free of external pressures and we do not have to approach this tribe through a study of the influence of historical factors on the internal village structure.

Okum, however, is of particular interest because the relationships between its villages probably have a form which was far more widespread in the forest region before nineteenth century movements brought political changes to the riverain areas. But Okum is also, I believe, of considerable general interest to comparative studies of political institutions because one of their Avat seems to have been something approaching a "divine king". There has been considerable speculation since Frazer's time about divine kings: some, writers, like Evans-Pritchard have been concerned with their function, [1] but many more have been interested almost solely in the history of the institution and have sought in existing or recently existing offices for traces of former diviner kingship. [2] The evidence from Okum is of interest not because it suggest that they formerly had such a ruler but because the indications are that one of their Avat was being pushed by the pressure of the events towards becoming a "divine king".

Lastly we must consider Adun, a tribe which has as great if not greater significance for any typology of African political systems.

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This tribe is important because by the early years of this century it was becoming in some respects a centralized state despite the fact that it neither was conquered by outsiders nor developed any kind of aristocracy. Here it is not one office on which attention must be focused but rather we must examine the way in which various politically important decisions were removed from the jurisdiction of the villages and became matters which had to be settled at a tribal level; a change which obviously was due to enemy pressure.

It follows from all this that the description of the three tribes cannot fall into any single pattern: in case of the Osopong we must pay disproportionate attention to the influence of historical factors on the general social structure; for Okum our main interest will focus on one office; and when we examine Adun we must fix our attention on the organization at the tribal level. Moreover we shall find that the influence of trade in the nineteenth century varied between the three tribes almost as much as did that of external enemies. Osopong seems scarcely to have been concerned with trade and we shall have little to say therefore on the subject in our discussion of this tribe. In Okum the influence of trade has been greater and we shall have to discuss trade factors leading one of the Okum villages to move to the banks of the Cross River, a move which had great political significance. It is, however, in our analysis of the Adun peoples that we shall have to pay most attention to the significance of trade. We shall find that the considerable unity of the Adun tribe and the authority of its leading Ovat are clearly connected with the importance of trade in Adun. In our analysis, therefore, we shall be forced to take up in some detail the problem of whether the importance of trade in Adun was primarily a cause or a result of its political solidarity.

Nevertheless, in examining the three tribes there will of course be considerable consistency in the themes taken up. In particular we shall examine the pattern of distribution of the roles of the Avat, the political use made of the ceremonies connected with them and we shall particularly examine the details of the links forged between the villages by the Okpobam cult. Moreover we shall also pay particular attention to two other aspects of these tribes: the extent of solidarity within the political units, since this is obviously significant for the Avat in so far as they are the heads of these units; and in addition we shall also look in some detail at the pattern of inter-group hostility as it occurs in each tribe. This is because it is my hypothesis that the power exercised by the Avat as peace priests depends in a general sense on the extent to which they have been called upon to intervene in disputes to maintain peace. This is a theme that will be taken up in the conclusion, but it will only be possible to do so if the evidence has already been presented for each tribe.

I must ask the reader to bear with the many titles of particular office-holders and the many names of villages which appear in this second part. I have striven in the interests of clarity to avoid the use of jargon and of Mbembe terms, but in this section, when we look at

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each tribe in detail and try to see the processes involved in their political development, the use f Mbembe names in inevitable. To make the account clearer maps have been incorporated which should be treated as integral parts of the analysis and not as mere embellishments

[1] Evans-Pritchard 1962.

[2] e.g. Irstam 1944.

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