The Pende live in matrilineal clans and lineages. In the district, the top clan, or manda (which is generally divided into three lineages, each furnishing the chief in turn) is the first to have arrived in a territory, hence the first to have buried its dead there. The earth belongs to the dead and therefore to those who represent them, their descendants. The area that is occupied in each district is hunting territory and is thus vast. Lineages who arrive later are authorized to settle there and farm, but each one owes a tribute from the hunt and one or two wives to the top clan, which thus becomes "father" of the whole group of subjects. It decides about arranging for bush fires and collective hunts. Marriage being virilocal, the clans are dispersed, with a top lineage in one district and others as "subjects" in other districts. Thus, one can ask a man, "Where do you have your hat [ cheffal ]?"—that is to say, "Where is your clan chief?"
Because virilocal postmarital residence is the usual pattern, a son could either choose to live with his father or join his uterine uncle; a girl lives with her parents until she marries and leaves for her husband's home. Women are either regularly "traveling" or "married," but never "in the village," and therefore one should, in theory, expect to find in a village only the men of the lineage and their families. Occasionally, however, divorced women or widows who have come back to their brothers' homes are among the villagers. The reality is in fact more complicated. Most of the lineages and villages and all of the top lineages have their own slaves, who are called "children" or "grandchildren" and are bound to their purchasers by a fictive relationship. This relationship is transmitted by the women. Ancient slave stocks enjoy the prestige of being associated with the owning lineage. The lineage that furnishes the top wife and the chief's minister is guardian of the regalia ( kifumu ) and the only lineage able to manipulate them (for certain ones have a magic power, and the chief is dissociated from all magic). The top wife is superintendent of the cultivation of crops, and the women must effectively choose lands for this or that crop and decide on the duration of fallow periods. The transmission of the Pende agricultural tradition from mother to daughter is theoretically impossible under a discordant regime, in which the women are perpetually going to and fro, never "at home, in the village," and the fields are cultivated by outsiders. As a matter of fact, except for the top wife, many other women contract a "union on the premises," the slaves ensuring a matrilocal as well as a matrilineal society. It is difficult to know who is a slave, for any allusion to such status in conversation is prohibited and constitutes a grave offense, especially its revelation to an outsider. De Sousberghe succeeded in ascertaining that in two villages at Totshi at least half of the villagers were slaves. The colonial authority had prohibited all sales, but had authorized clans to buy back any slave member. This authorization permitted sales to take place, disguised as "buying back," with the evocation of fictive genealogy in the palaver. In 1956 de Sousberghe recorded at Gungu the palaver, or the so-called buying back, of a woman called Kienda and her descendants. Subsequently, de Sousberghe learned that she had been "bought back" twice: the second palaver denounced the "errors" in the genealogy that had previously been invoked.