Bamiléké - Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. Bamiléké practice a system of dual descent, in some kingdoms accompanied by institutionalized relations among a diffuse uterine group ( pam nto' in Bangangté, atsen'ndia among the Bangwa-Fontem). Most anthropologists studying various Bamiléké groups have emphasized agnatic relations. At the center of descent groups are lines of heirs and heiresses who inherit the property, titles, and skull custodianship of their ascendants. Each lineage head chooses a single heir or heiress, who "becomes" that person in terms of titles in customary associations, as well as rights and duties toward all dependents. Patrilineal descent determines village membership and the inheritance of titles, land, compound, and wives. For nonheirs, the obligation to sacrifice to patrilineal skulls ceases after two generations. Matrilineal descent determines inheritance of titles, movable property, and moral and legal obligation to lineage members. In theory, the obligation to sacrifice to matrilineal skulls does not diminish with structural distance; in practice, facing misfortune often motivates people to renew their obligations to matrilineal ancestresses. Bamiléké have no clans.

Kinship Terminology. Bamiléké refer to their father and his heir by the same term ( ta ), and to their mother and her heiress by the same term (ma). Cousins are addressed by sibling terms, but both they and half-siblings are distinguished in everyday conversation. Special sibling terms indicate birth order (e.g., firstborn) and relation to twins (e.g., born following a set of twins). A complex system of praise names, indicating the village of origin of a person's mother or father, with variations in alternating generations, are important terms of address in the Bamiléké kingdoms of Ndé Division. Joking relations of fictive, namesake kin are sometimes generated from the use of these praise names. Skill in using praise names is an important marker of cultural competence. Distinctions between "deracinated" urban dwellers and "traditional" rural relatives are becoming increasingly important.

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