Anuak - Sociopolitical Organization



Among the northwestern Anuak, residents of isolated hamlets claim kinship links with a single "core" patrilineal descent group, which is spoken of collectively as the "owners of the land." Living members of this core lineage are imagined to be descendants of the long-deceased ancestors who originally established or settled each hamlet. In each hamlet, one finds a "headman" who is able to trace especially close links with the founding ancestor. Only sons of former headmen can ever inherit this office as adults. Because of his direct link with deceased ancestors, the headman has a quasi-sacred authority, and with this elevated status he carries the authority to settle disputes and regulate certain rituals. On a day-to-day basis, his most important obligation is to provide feasts for the hamlet's residents. Given the character of Anuak system of descent, the headman of any single hamlet is also patrilineally related to headmen in other hamlets. The headman governs with his charisma and authority, rather than through secular power. When a headman becomes "stingy" in the eyes of hamlet residents, he is deposed in favor of another member of the core lineage, often a younger man whose father was previously a headman. Research has shown that most headmen remain in office for a relatively short time, two to three years being the norm.

The sociopolitical organization of hamlets in southeastern Anuak country tends toward a more fixed hierarchical form. Here there exists a single patrilineal clan. The founder of this noble clan is said to have emerged from a river, long ago. He was then abducted by residents of one hamlet in order to replace the then-reigning headman. It has been observed that the Anuak noble clan may be regarded as a single lineage of potential ruling headmen scattered throughout Anuak country.


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