Law in Culture and Society

Every breach in a marriage, whether made by divorce or death, is accompanied by conflict between villages, but the existence of other ties of affinity and kinship prevents the conflict from rupturing all ties between them. Crosscutting affiliations ally those who are in conflict. Kasonda and Manyosa, for example, would not argue on behalf of Mukanza Village. Mukanza himself spoke with great moderation, for his three children by Nyatungeji belonged by matrilineal descent to Shika's following.

Through Mukanza's marriage with Mangaleshi, he was a co-parent in law with Headman Shika, since he was muku to Mangaleshi, and Shika was, in the context of affinity, muku to Kasonda. (Turner 1972) Although the villages did not break off relation, it was felt by the Shika people that Mukanza Village had had the better of the bargain, and so they remained resentful. They complained against the Mukanza group in many villages, insulting the Kawiku as a whole. However, a temporary reconciliation between the villages occurred when it was decided to hold the Chihamba ritual, and a special invitation was sent to Shika Village to attend.

Ties of kinship and affinity are key to achieving unity in an unstable society. However these ties do not necessarily mean reliable political bonds between villages due to the high risk of conflict that exists in these types of relationships. As in the case of Mukanza and Shika where ties of kinship and affinity interconnected their members, conflicts and tensions arose between two villages, which was a serious factor in the reduction of interactions between them. This might give rise to bickering between its own nuclear lineage and affines and kin belonging to the lineage of the other.

This proves that kinship and affinity in such a society divide as often as they bind, as this surfaced from the instability in the marriage relationship, due to the conflict between matrilineal descent and virilocal marriage. Since many kin participate in marriage and death payments, and since these are nearly always subjects of dispute in whatever context of social relations they may be considered, conflicts between villages over them are continually taking place, and rarely do solutions satisfy both parties.

The absence of centralized political organization does not necessarily imply that talking will not be resorted to as means of resolving disputes, as has been seen, and this represents the dominant and approved mode. In a society with state organization, officials with authority to settle disputes are more easily identified, however, the use of a third-party is required in simpler societies, is more complicated.

In a society such as the Ndendeuli, a Bantu-speaking people from Southern Tanzania, where the community is made up of groups of undifferentiated kinsmen and affines, the members of the households rely heavily on each other for cooperation in making a living. In the case of a dispute between two members of the Ndendeuli community, the approved method of dealing with it is for the disputants to meet with their kinsmen for settlement-directed discussion. Third parties, who will usually be kinsmen or affines of the disputants, must either join the disputant as a supporter, or be a mediator, but would in that case, have to keep an impartial view.

Each disputant will try to secure members that are influential in the community on his side (these are referred to as 'action-set people'). It is important to have support such as this, as such members are listened to with respect in a meeting. Mediators are likely to be drawn from people with whom neither party has particularly close ties of cooperation, and are equal from each in terms of kinship. Third parties have to carefully think of the consequences of a particular position, as failure to achieve a settlement or solution, or partiality for one side would be damaging.

Each dispute therefore leaves its mark on the community in the sense that new loyalties are found, and old ones rejected. In the event of a solution not being reached, the meeting has to be arranged to try again. Reference may be made to socially accepted rules, to the importance of sustaining certain social ties, and to the harmony of the community as a whole in the search for a settlement. Ndendeuli norms tend to be vague and imprecise, and so there is a lack of clarity, so appeals made by each party are not clear.

This is illustrated in the norms relating to bride wealth, and to the behaviour of the son-in law, and it is unsure as to what constitutes as an adequate presentation of bride wealth. Therefore, the uncertainty of these norms provide ground over which a potential dispute could arise between a man and his son-in law. This is exemplified in the case of Rajabu (son-in law) and Sedi (father-in law) who demanded more bride wealth. Rajabu finally agreed to an extra sum of money, but if he had not, a third party would not have the authority to impose a decision on the disputant, they must agree themselves to the settlement.

Therefore, the role of the third party cannot extend beyond helping to achieve that agreement. Whereas among the Ndendeuli, other members of the community to which a man belongs, provides a single forum to which he can appeal in search of a settlement, a disputant of the Arusha of Northern Tanzania can take his grievance before members of his parish, his lineage, or his age-set, the advantage being he has a much greater choice. This is significant, as it enables him to air his problem in the forum where he believes his support is strongest, but Arusha values do impose some limitations upon the freedom with which a forum can be chosen.

According to these values, trouble among members of a lineage should be kept within the lineage, and the same applies in the case of age-mates. Someone from outside the lineage could only be drawn in to mediate as a very last resort. It is possible for societies to have well-established means of handling conflict without a centralized government. This point is evident in the settlement-directed talk of the Arusha and Mafia. However, in some cases, political, military, and economic strength are greater factors in the settling of a dispute than ties of marriage, due to the lack of authority.

It is suggested by Turner (1972) that the party who can command the largest and most powerful group of supporters within the community is as well placed on the battlefield as he is in the processes of settlement-directed talk. In all of the societies examined, the most important implications appear to be the way in which third parties are able to intervene in someone else's quarrel. Though this does not mean that settlement processes are restricted to bilateral exchanges, the mode of intervention is limited.

In many other stateless societies, the conclusion of a dispute is marked by elaborate feasting, the invocation of ancestors as witnesses, or some other ceremonial procedure.


Turner, V. W. , 1972, Schism and continuity in an African Society – A study of Ndembu village life Caplan, Pat, 1995, Understanding Disputes – The politics of Argument Roberts, Simon, 1979, Order and Dispute – An introduction to legal anthropology Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. , 1979, Structure and Function in Primitive Society Nader, Laura, Law in Culture and Society