Perpetual kinship : a political institution of the Luapula peoples

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In some societies, the various relationships in which a person is involved can be readily allotted to their respective spheres in social life—domestic, political, economic and so forth ; these relation¬ships are organized in specific, differentiated institutions. This is broadly true for those complex societies in which specialization of social roles has reached extremes, even though one man can occupy more than one social position and fulfil more than one social role. But analyses of smaller-scale African societies have shown difficulty in unravelling the various specific strands involved in undifferentiated relationships. Institutions appear as ‘total’ social phenomena, and the relationships expressed through them may contain perhaps political, kinship, economic and religious elements at the same time. The descriptions of peoples like the Tallensi and the Nuer have shown this interpenetration of institutions to a high degree. Among the Tallensi political, religious and unilineally-reckoned kinship units to a great extent coincide. The ways in which Nuer identify a political area with a lineage, and visualize their political life in kinship terms, are main themes of Evans-Pritchard’s study.2 But Tallensi and Nuer are both ‘stateless’ societies, without traditional, instituted positions of authority; to counter the lack of a governmental hierarchy, the political organization works through all the men of the society equally in their capacity as members of its component groups. When we come to consider states or societies under chiefs—and most Central African societies are of this kind—it might seem that the elements in the social life ought to be more readily distinguishable. Here it is obvious that political power lies in the administrative hierarchy. The political structure is a balance of the various parts in the hierarchy, while a system of checks prevents undue exercise of power at its apex or elsewhere. Thus demarcated, the political sphere in states is readily contrasted with the sphere of domestic kinship this, among Central Africans, comprises for the most part the small lineages within which interpersonal relationships obtain. These lineages, matrilineal and of shallow depth as most of them are, provide fixed groups of kin for those born to them; and each individual has in addition, according to the chances of his own life, the various other kindred whom he also treats on an interpersonal basis.
Available in print form, East Africana Collection, Dr Wilbert Chagula Library, (EAF FOS C91.P4)
Luapula peoples
Cunnison, I. (1989) Perpetual kinship : a political institution of the Luapula peoples