Alur - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



The family is polygynous, patrilineal, and patrilocal, based economically on the house-property complex. A man with more than one wife is required to provide each woman with her own house, granaries, and fields. The elementary cell of the compound family is thus an independent inheritance group. Its land is inheritable by its male members; its female members inherit nothing except possibly a few ornaments, articles of dress, and household utensils from their mother. Most of the animals that are received at a daughter's marriage become the property of the elementary family, consisting of her father, mother, and brothers. The head of the compound family is the trustee of the property of each of its component elementary families. The compound family is a self-contained property-holding unit. Bride-wealth received within it does not go outside it, except for special debts, and only its members share in the inheritance at the death of its head. The eldest son of the first wife usually succeeds as chief heir, although any son of any wife can do so if he is considered better qualified; however, such a succession may cause a split in the lineage. The son who inherits is the formal guardian of any young children left by his father. He has the first choice in the leviratic inheritance of widows (other than his own mother), but if there is more than one, he does not inherit both, but probably allows one to go to a younger brother who is not yet married.

Neighborhood groups are usually composed of exogamous lineages, lineage segments, or composite clan sections, with possibly a few other individuals and families linked to them cognatically. A man has special ties and privileges toward his mother's brother's clan as a whole, although such ties and privileges are usually exercised only toward the mother's brother's own corporate lineage. The man's relationship to his father's sister is equally important, but, as sisters marry into different lineages, that relationship is usually centered on a particular father's sister, always involving her husband and his fellow agnates, all of whom refer to the man as "son of our brother-in-law." Of course, the new affinal relations created in one generation always become the cognatic relations of the next.

Because marriage is a lengthy process of contract between two lineages, the Alur try to avoid divorce, which involves costly and disruptive rearrangements of property. Barrenness of women, sterility of men (rarely admitted), witchcraft on the part of either, and gross failure in domestic marital obligations are all grounds for divorce. Most of the bride-wealth must be repaid in case of divorce, with deductions made for any children born of the marriage.

The Alur familial authority system, in relation to the individual, is essentially continuous, collective, and generalized. Within the permanent and pervasive groups, which are mutually interdependent, children are taught to assume generalized roles that impose their inevitable limitations of habit and whose pattern is easily extended to cover like groups. The individual's first experience of authority comes in the form of parental discipline, but training and discipline also come from a fairly wide group of senior paternal and maternal kin. Authority rests on a noticeably collective basis, and the parental role is much less marked than in Western family systems. Alur children go through a process of learning that begins with toilet training and feeding themselves and ranges to respecting persons and property, running errands, and generally emulating older persons of their own sex. Some aspects of this process invite comparison with those of the wider political system. The Alur describe their system of discipline as stern and rigid, yet observation of their daily life conveys the opposite impression. It must be that the stern enforcement of minimum rules of conduct on rare and exemplary occasions during maturation is sufficient to fix observance of these minimum requirements by the majority without any further reminders and with infrequent need for punishment. The tempo of their life is slow, their physical stamina is great, and they endure spells of exhaustingly hard work, but the greater part of life among the Alur consists of tasks that are monotonous but not exacting, which enables the young to have great freedom and yet to be inducted into adult life without any striking period of tension or ritualized initiation. Legitimate authority, both in the family and in the political system, cannot be directly challenged, but it can be evaded. In family life, the escape from authority, although usually more or less temporary, is also an integral part of the system and brings into play various categories of kinship without challenging the legitimacy of familial authority as such. The introduction of spheres of activity beyond the direct control of Alur society, such as schooling, migrant labor, and professional careers outside Alur territory, constitutes a much graver threat to the integrity of the Alur system of socialization.

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