Zarma - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Significant social units beyond the household include the village quarter ( kurey ), whose households are headed by members of a lineage segment and who elect a quarter chief ( kurey koy ), and the village ( kwara ) itself, whose chief ( kwara koy ) is elected by the council of quarter chiefs. Village chiefs are accorded deference, but they occupy a status of first among equals and have little power to enforce decisions for the community. Age classes are not significant social categories among the Zarma, owing to the lack of emphasis given to coming-of-age. Cooperative endeavors are most frequently but not exclusively organized on the basis of agnatic or affinal ties. The most common form of community cooperation is the boogu, a short-lived collective-labor group that is organized to assist kin or neighbors with a variety of tasks ranging from clearing, planting, or weeding fields to building houses.

Precolonial Zarma society was divided into two classes: freemen, consisting of nobles (who were members of ruling families) and commoners, and captives. Captives were of two kinds: domestic captives, who were considered semikin, and captives who were seized in war and could be sold or traded. Slavery has been legally abolished in Niger, but the social distinction between the descendants of freemen and captives persists. Descendants of freemen and captives do not marry; some artisanal activities are practiced solely by descendants of captives or servile castes.

Political Organization. The most important chief in Zarma country is the Dosso Zarmakoy. The second level of authority comprises the canton chiefs, who are elected by councils of village chiefs. Village chiefs have tertiary authority; quarter chiefs report to them, and so on.

Social Control. Enculturation and the social pressure that comes from the transparency of personal life are quite effective as social-control mechanisms (see "Religious Beliefs"). Significant deviations and conflicts are handled initially by the village assembly or village elders, and then by the canton chief, who may, if the case warrants, call in government representatives.

Conflict. An essential part of Zarma history and ideology consists of the exploits of Zarma warriors in the precolonial period. Conflict, particularly with the pastoral Fulbe and Tuareg, is an essential element of the Zarma past. Despite the presence of indigenous mechanisms and a civil-court system for adjudicating disputes, conflict with the pastoral Fulbe, and occasionally with other Zarma from nearby villages, remains a part of the Zarma present. Disputes between Zarma villagers over land and with Fulbe over incursions by cattle and crop damage caused by livestock can be violent and occasionally fatal.


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