Dyula - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. An individual's seniority is determined by generation, relative age, gender, and free or slave status. Juniors are expected to display consistent deference toward their elders, appealing to individuals even more senior or to a council of the descent group as a whole if they feel they are being unjustly treated. Rules of seniority are, in principle, applied inflexibly to designate the eldest free male of the senior generation to succeed to office within the descent group or to political office. Nevertheless, the Dyula accord considerable respect and de facto authority to any individual successful in commerce, politics, or Islamic scholarship. A distinction was drawn between slaves who were purchased ( san jon ) and slaves who were "born in the house" ( worosso ). The latter might joke obscenely at the expense of all free individuals ( horon ). Milder reciprocal-joking relationships exist between linked patronymic groups ( senanku ), between grandparents and grandchildren, between cross cousins, and between certain categories of affines ( nimogo ), specifically elder siblings' spouses and spouses' younger siblings.

Political Organization. Most Dyula communities owed political allegiance to rulers from other ethnic groups, such as the Senufo or Abron. The most notable exception was the state of Kong, where the Dyula staged a coup d'état around 1700. The Dyula who enjoyed political authority as chiefs—whether of the state of Kong, a chiefdom, or simply a village—were drawn in principle from the ranks of hereditary "warriors," called tun tigiw, or, in Kong, sonongui. In the late nineteenth century, many Dyula communities were annexed by the empire of Samory. Some Dyula chiefs were deposed in favor of more loyal supporters with no claims to authority. The authority of traditional chiefs was further eroded by the French and, later, by the postcolonial authorities; it is now essentially symbolic.

Social Control. The control that elders enjoyed over access to wealth and to women helped them maintain effective authority over their junior dependents. Conflicts were mediated by chiefs or adjudicated by a council of the descent group as a whole. Geographical mobility was high: malcontents could simply leave to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Conflict. At its apogee in the eighteenth century, the state of Kong enjoyed considerable power, raiding as far as the Niger to the north and staving off the armies of Ashanti to the south. With the military decline of Kong, the Dyula there and elsewhere tended to concentrate on commercial rather than military ventures. As traders, the Dyula often had a stake in maintaining good relations with their neighbors. They were not pacifists, however; their individual or collective participation in local warfare depended on their assessment of circumstances.

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