San-Speaking Peoples - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Residence is based on bilateral kinship. Nonresident associations are also important. Among the Zhu I õasi, hxaro networks link persons who are related through common great-grandparents over distances of 200 kilometers or more; the Nharo and a few other Khoe groups have similar exchange networks. Hxaro (the Zhu I õasi term) is a system of delayed reciprocity, with obligations attached to partners; important partnerships are frequently inherited from parents, and marriages are often arranged through these channels. To celebrate marriages, childbirth, and girls' puberty initiations, gifts—called kamasi in Zhu I õasi and kamane in Nharo—are given in a separate series of exchanges. Zhu I õasi age sets, I arakwe, are composed of persons who are not necessarily kin; these age sets now have few functions, but they appear to have been important in the past, when they probably were central to the hxaro framework for long-distance trade. Zhu I õasi name groups, which once may have functioned as clans, are now almost entirely forgotten; the Kxoe and some eastern Khoe have analogous residual forms.

Political Organization. All San-speaking groups have positions of hereditary leadership; the term I I xaiha , derived from a root designating "wealth," is usually translated as "chief." These leaders now have limited authority of a traditional kind, but among the Zhu I õasi they are usually elected to state-created posts such as chairman of the village-development committee.

Social Control. Ridicule, verbal abuse, dispersal, and divination are the usual means of maintaining social order, but consensually sanctioned executions and murders were not uncommon in the past. Minor disputes are adjudicated in informal hearings in which all interested parties participate. Nowadays village headmen appointed by district councils hear minor civil cases; more serious cases are referred to local and district courts.

Conflict. For many years, all San speakers have engaged in small-scale fighting among themselves and their neighbors, but there are no special war officers, and no particular prestige follows success in battle.

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