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The British Journal of Sociology, June 1963, vol. 14, no. 2

The Plateau Tonga of Northern Rhodesia: Social and Religious Studies by ELIZABETH COLSON Manchester University Press, 1962. xv + 237 PP- 32s. 6d.


THE publication in one volume of these seven essays by Dr. Colson is most welcome, the more so as one or two of them originally appeared in journals not easily accessible in this country. Based on first class fieldwork extending over four years, each is concerned with some principle of integration in a society without constituted political authority or a segmentary lineage system. The Plateau Tonga are matrilineal but they are not organized into lineages of any depth, nor do lineage members form a local group. Beliefs in ancestor spirits and the ritual of that approach to them reflect this dispersion, the as they do the matrilineal principle and the complementary relationship with the father's kin, and the absence of recognized lineage heads. The Tonga refuse to differentiate degrees of distance between kin, and this may have the consequence that all in turn may refuse assistance to an individual, each arguing that some one else should give it. Dr. Colson correlates with this the widespread network the of 'joking-partnerships' between clans, which does bind the members to reciprocity in certain situations. When the Tonga were independent, the matrilineages did recognize the common duty of vengeance and the exaction of compensation for wrongs, but their members were dispersed in practice through patrilocal marriage and constant changes of residence, and only small numbers could be mobilized on any particular occasion. Although one effect of the dispersal of the vengeance group is to extend the repercussions of a dispute, another is to increase the number of neutrals who will intervene to urge reconciliation; in his introduction Professor Gluckman tells us that this analysis by Dr. Colson led him to undertake his own re-interpretation of the Nuer material in Custom and Conflict. A further restraint on violence is imposed, though only for small areas, by the annual rain-rituals, during which all participants must be at peace. Other links between different localities are provided by the placing out of cattle to be herded, for the Tonga, contrary to what most Africanists would expect, manage to combine matriliny with stock raising. This, and the final essay on modem political organization, deal more explicitly than the rest with contemporary changes in Tonga social structure. An essay on the reasons for choice and transfer of residence contains an account of all the changes in membership, with reasons, in one village in four years. One's only small regret is that in revising for publication Dr. Colson has left uncorrected a baffling misprint ('now' for 'not', P- 48) and has not substituted the now current 'patrilateral' for 'patrilineal' where that is what she means.



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