Kulturell kontinuitet og sosial endring. En studie av iraqw-folket i det nordlige Tanzania
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Original versionRekdal, Ole Bjørn (1994). Kulturell kontinuitet og sosial endring. En studie av iraqw-folket i det nordlige Tanzania. Bergen: Norse.
This book is a revised version of the thesis I submitted in December 1991 as part of the requirements for the Cand. Polit. degree in social anthropology. The focus of the study is social and cultural processes among the Cushitic-speaking, agro-pastoral Iraqw of northern Tanzania, an ethnic group numbering approximately 500 000 people. The title, Cultural continuity and social change among the Iraqw of northern Tanzania, reflects the relatively general scope of this study. The introduction (chapter one) contains an outline of the background for the study, and presents my ambitions of exploring an apparent paradox in the way the Iraqw are perceived and evaluated by outsiders. Neighbouring peoples tend to classify the Iraqw as "watu wa kabila", literally "tribal people" if translated from Swahili, together with other "conservative" peoples like the Maasai or the Tatog. Simultaneously however, Iraqw society has been characterized by profound changes throughout the last century, and the study of these processes seems to reveal a remarkable degree of adaptivity and flexibility. Philip Raikes, who has conducted a comprehensive economic study of the Iraqw in Karatu, writes in a telling passage that "in North Iraqw, it would be hard to discern any resistance to change stemming from traditional attitudes" (Raikes 1975a: 333). The following four chapters in part I present ethnography from diverse aspects of Iraqw society and culture. The governing idea of this section is to show how continuity in key institutions, practices and ideology has been maintained in the face of profound social transformation. Chapter two is an historical analysis of the traditional and religiously legitimated political system and its encounter with colonial and national authorities. Chapter three focuses on the strong territorial expansion and population growth that Iraqw society has experienced during the last century. In chapter four I discuss Iraqw kinship. I question former studies' failure to recognize the fundamental significance of clanship and kinship for social organization. Interethnic relations, particularly between the Iraqw and the Nilotic-speaking Tatog, are explored in chapter five. It is argued that the close relationship between the two ethnic groups can most fruitfully be understood as continuous processes of cultural and social synthesis, rather than as an assimilation of Tatog sub-sections into Iraqw society. In part II (chapter six) the emphasis shifts from historical and macro perspectives to a focus on the position and significance of certain key symbols in Iraqw culture. Both milk and millet beer are beverages which have high significance in the lives of the Iraqw, not only due to their nutritional value, but also to their profound potential as sign elements in the continuous discourses on relations between individuals, between groups of people, and between human beings, spirits and deity. With the spread of market economy and money as a medium of exchange, the symbolic content of milk and millet beer has come under considerable pressure. The monetization of millet beer and milk has however not caused a breakdown in established practices, nor in structures of meaning in which such practices are embedded. In this chapter I seek to illuminate some of the processes which seem to be central for the remarkable cultural continuity that may be noted in the handling of these central beverages in the face of fairly radical social change. In part III (chapter seven) I attempt to reveal some of the processes that underlie the dynamics exemplified in the previous chapters. I argue that the ritual prayers of the Iraqw (fiiro and sluufay) serve as mediums for a "ritualized discourse". These prayers are characterized by a highly formalized framework, but within these frames there is considerable room for individual creativity. The messages presented during the prayers in a ritual context become vested with both propositional and performative or illocutionary force, and as such become powerful channels of communication. The leadership of the fiiro and the sluufay is decentralized, i.e., a large proportion of the population, including women, is free to present their thoughts, hopes and anxieties through this fora. That the prayers may be carried out almost daily in some periods of the year, adds to the importance of fiiro and sluufay central forums for cultural discourse. I furthermore try to show that Iraqw culture is characterized by certain mechanisms or procedures that may serve to maintain continuity in the face of social and cultural change. New thoughts and practices, apparently incompatible with traditional culture, are integrated in ways that protect the established from the potentially disruptive aspects of the new. This gets its most dramatic expression in what I have labelled "rituals of redefinition". By redefining the religious or symbolic qualities of places, people and material objects, incompatibility between culture and reality is avoided, thereby seemingly ensuring continuity in the former without rejecting the latter. One prominent example in the thesis is the manner in which the Iraqw have created a sharp dichotomy between milk from traditional Zebu cattle and milk from cows of European origin. The latter type of milk is devoid of the symbolic qualities of traditional milk, and is not affected by the strong norms which regulate its circulation within Iraqw society. Hence, a new and desirable element is integrated in a way that protects the symbolic and religious qualities of milk. Another example is the exemption, through a "ritual of redefinition", of a recently constructed hospital from the rules governing the transmission of ritual impurity. According to traditional definitions, the hospital compound should be an exceptionally dangerous place due to events like deaths, premarital births and iron-caused bleeding, all of which frequently take place within its boundaries. By ritually exempting the hospital from the ordinary rules and norms of impurity, and thereby creating a qualitative dichotomy between the hospital compound and the rest of the environment in which the Iraqw live their lives, a new and beneficial element is integrated without affecting the fundamental idea that certain events and states cause ritual pollution. I do throughout the thesis try to show that the apparent paradox presented in the introduction may best be understood by evidence which reveals that there is not necessarily any contradiction between profound social change, and a high degree of cultural continuity. I claim that the dynamics of the processes of negotiation and renegotiation in which maintenance as well as transformation of social and cultural forms take place, seem to appear with particular clarity in Iraqw political and religious life.
SeriesBergen Studies in Social Anthropology