Suku - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The primary groups of loyalty are one's own matrilineage and the village, which involves the patrikindred and the father's matrilineage. Given male patrilocality and household virilocality, one's everyday life tends to focus on the village, whereas one's economic, jural, and ritual obligations focus on the dispersed matrilineage. Although this sometimes leads to conflicts of loyalty, it also provides a certain relief from the near-totalistic demands of one's lineage. Status achievement was traditionally a matter of aging: for both males and females, eldership (from middle-age on) brings with it an ever-increasing involvement in the affairs of one's lineage, surrounding community, and region. Nowadays status is also bolstered by education, position in the larger Zairean society, and wealth. Traditionally, there was little wealth differentiation among lineages; the main variable in social power lay in the size of the lineage.

Political Organization. The political organization of the Suku kingdom was pyramidal. The royal lineage (whose current head was the king) stood at the apex and also ruled directly its own immediate region. The rest of Sukuland was divided into about a dozen regional chieftaincies (of unequal size and occasionally subject to fission), each controlled by a specific lineage holding the right to its chiefship. The larger of these were subdivided into several smaller subordinate chieftaincies; the smaller ones were not. Below this, the political organization was coterminous with relations among the local matrilineages. The main concerns of the formal political system were prestige and tribute. Tribute flowed upward through each successive level to the king. The political system was also formally concerned with ensuring public order, but it lacked effective institutionalized means (such as police or standing troops) for doing so, and the chiefs' order-keeping roles were played out capriciously, sporadically, and often reluctantly.

Social Control. Traditionally, social control depended primarily on mechanisms usually characteristic of acephalous societies. Lineages were totally autonomous in their internal affairs, and the elders' control rested on their formal power to curse and their suspected witchcraft, a control tempered by fear of witchcraft accusations. Between lineages, most conflicts were conditioned by the need of every corporate lineage to redress any imbalance in its relationship with every other lineage. Any lasting indebtedness upset this balance. Most conflicts arose from theft, property destruction, homicide, marriage-payment obligations, and infringement of sexual rights. The aggrieved party frequently resorted to violent self-help or to an attack on a third party, forcibly involving it in the settlement process. Conflicts between lineages could also be taken to independently practicing arbitrators who relied on argument or divination. Since the colonial period, customary courts, with powers of enforcing decisions, have been dealing with civil and minor criminal cases, and government courts have been dealing with serious crimes.

Conflict. The only armed conflict with a neighboring group in Suku history lay at the foundation of the Suku polity, with the defeat of the Lunda-Yaka attempt to subdue the fleeing Suku king. Since then, conflicts with neighboring groups occurred locally at the level of lineages, the methods of settlement being the same as those between Suku lineages.


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