Tagged: Voluntary associations
January 3, 2009 at 14:31 #2059
People of all cultures, all conditions, and all dispositions form associations. Commenting the forming of associations among Americans about two hundred years ago de Tocqueville affirmed that Americans make associations to found seminaries, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner he averred, they found hospitals and schools (1966).
If it is proposed to inculcate some truth, or foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example de Tocqueville continued, associations form a society. Voluntary associations are any kind of formal organisation in which membership is voluntary.
He was quasi-permanently host to a number of persons, sometimes of entire households who had just moved into the city. Among them were kinsmen in the widest sense of the term: but sometimes they were just people who hailed from the same country as himself or spoke a language which was related to his mother tongue and of which he had some knowledge. Those who had relatives in the city before they came moved away to live with them when they found them. Otherwise, as it was the case for those who had come with specific plans of relocation, this first home was just a station on the way for a short period. There were also occasional visitors of individuals who had known him before he relocated in the city: they paid him a visit out of courtesy, for instance, or to seek for assistance on some particular issue. Among these “guests” are girls and boys, young men and women, and sometimes the not-so-young. The ones would have been sent to the city to join some city resident relatives, perhaps for the purpose of school and such other needs; the others, on their own probably have gone to the city to try their trade, or in some function such as functionaries in various institutions who have to relocate. Some others still might have been attracted to the city by its rumoured glamour.
This was the situation of a typical city resident of some stature; a man of some success in business; a civil servant in the intermediate or upper range of monthly income; some upper generation settler. In any of the cases our statement refers to a non-autochthon in the city.
It may arise that a number of persons who hail from the same country think of periodical assembly. In repeated encounters with one another the question would be considered. If there were no existing association which is sufficiently concerned with issues which matter most for them as a group, more individuals would be acquainted with this fact. An association in the formal sense would arise when at a more or less formal first meeting, specifics on its nature, objectives and mechanism of functioning are considered and decided.
Perspective on the Concept of Ethnicity
Anthropologists have demonstrated a readiness to critically re-examine popular but misleading concepts such as the “tribe,” for concepts are not only crucial structure and dynamic elements of theoretical systems but also tools for fact gathering. If they are not sufficiently discriminating, data miss-gathering is inevitable.
The term “tribe” has been mostly used to designate a grouping of people who share the same customs, generally speak the same language and inhabit a specific territory. Also, the term “ethnic group” – a less specifiable entity less suggestive of territoriality but with an addition in relation to the attitude of the individuals, an awareness of participation in the same collective identity – would be an equally appropriate term. An ethnic group is a self-perceived group of people who hold a common set of traditions not shared by others with whom they are in contact. Such traditions typically include “folk” religious beliefs and practices, language, a sense of historical continuity, and common ancestry or place of origin. The group’s actual history often trails off into legend or mythology, which includes some concept of an unbroken biological continuity, sometimes regarded as giving special characteristics to the group. Endogamy is usual although various patterns of initiating outsiders into the ethnic group are developed in such a way that they do not disrupt the sense of genealogical continuity. Some of the elements which characterize ethnic membership may seem to characterize lineage group or caste membership. A lineage group or caste perceived itself as an interdependent unit of a society. Members of an ethnic group cling to a sense of having been an independent people, in origin at least, whatever the special role they may have collectively come to play in a pluralist society.
In the study of ethnicity the social anthropologist looks at relationships between groups which see themselves, and are considered by others to be culturally distinctive. He is interested in the ways in which sentiments and ideas associated with ethnicity are expressed in everyday life.
In this paper we propose a consideration of associations in which the primary condition for membership is derivation [devotion to] a territorial community, or some local subdivision of it, which is felt to be distinctive in customs. The specific question we examine relates pattern in voluntary associations to the organisational structure of the various ethnic entities from which their members arise. We would be more specific than has usually been the case whether the social scientist is asking what associations of all kinds the members of a particular ethnic group establish or belong to; whether he are asking how many associations they form or what proportion of them belong to them and how manifest or latent a manner; or whether he is interested in all voluntary associations or only in ethnic associations, giving clear definitions of what we mean by these designations.
We would call our paper “a review on ethnicity on the question of voluntary associations in sub-Saharan cities.”
Social Structure and Social Change
In the sixteenth century the question of cultural discontinuity in the view of social philosophers of the time could be summarised in a simple alternative: with specific regard to indigenous Americans it was that either they were humans and should be integrated whether they were willing to be integrated or not in the Christian civilisation, or they were not humans and should be treated as beasts. It was not until the eighteen century that the historical and sociological considerations of the question became of some interest. Also, it should be noted that whichever solution was proposed, there is a quasi- total agreement among authors on one premiss: the pertinence of comparability between these so-called primitive peoples, and western civilisation. That the former are situated, as Condorcet thought, at the point of the beginning of a continuos and rising evolution, or as Diderot fancied to suggest, that they constitute a summit from which mankind has constantly been falling, or yet, according to the more trendy and nuanced thinking of Roussesau’s, there should be a distinction between the state of nature – a purely hypothetical event – and a situation of humanity of currency in primitive societies representing some sort of equilibrium between man and nature; none of these conceptions debunk the position that cultural continuities thrive as obvious testimonies and vestiges of a linear development.
In the 52nd lesson of Cours de Philosophie Positive, Comte criticised the perils of a unitary theory of social and cultural development. Development he said, should be studied as a specifically western property. Insights which arise from such study would then be used to appraise from the outside, transformation that has taken place in different societies. In agreement with positivism [Comte] Marxism sees in development an intrinsic property of western civilisation. Primitive peoples would continue to be primitive for thousands of years were it not of commerce with the outside world which for some have led to dissolution.
The general view of social anthropologists on African institutions before the arrival of Arab merchants and European explorers, and before colonialism is that they were static, changing neither in structure nor in function. It seems however reasonable to assume that before the introduction of alien and especially European ways, some African institutions, for example technology, changed albeit very slowly over long periods of time. The majority of social anthropologists would agree that the major changes taking place in African institutions today can be traced directly or indirectly to factors originating from Islamic intrusion, Christianity, and colonial rule. These factors, acting separately and in various combinations have transformed African societies and continue to do so. Changes usually mentioned without discrimination include:
(1) The individual is now free from parental and family and lineage control. In this regard it is further mentioned that as a result, there is greater freedom of action on the part of the individual.
(2) The African’s economic well-being no longer depends solely on the cooperation of his family, kinsmen, and neighbours. This point is invariably made in support of the previous one.
(3) Many taboos have been lifted.
(4) The African, as a result of the foregoing reasons has become a man of two
worlds trying to reconcile his traditional values with those coming in the
wake of social change.
In the field of social change, what has been happening in Africa over the past several decades is that alien political, economic, and cultural factors have introduced a new organizing principle which tried first to complement and finally replace that of kinship. Kinship continues to provide the basis of claims to property, but it is now possible to turn to an authority outside the lineage or clan and the village to defend these claims. Today there are a number of modern political and economic roles which on their own, with or without the help of kin groups, can assist the ambitious African to build up his fortunes. In large urban areas and employment centres, the kin groups have become largely unnecessary for his economic well-being. There are of course differences in the degrees to which these changes have reached. Generally speaking, the rural areas have remained relatively stable except in areas where governmental policy has resulted in extensive disruption of the territorial organization. It is in the large areas and employment centres that the greatest changes have been taking place. On the whole, however, wage employment often separates the worker physically from his own group if he has to live in the city at some distance from home. Then, too, there are the new institutions arising everywhere to take over the functions and activities which used to be performed by the lineage and extended family. There are schools to undertake the teaching of new technical skills indispensable in the modern world, hospitals to take responsibility for the sick that used to be the business of the family head seeking the assistance of the diviner, and day nurseries to look after the young ones before they go to school.
Because of all these developments, people have become more independent of kinship ties and more and more ready to disregard them when they are annoying. In the pre-European era, the desire to have full control of one’s share of the lineage property conflicted with the ideal that the lineage solidarity should be maintained through the generations. Yet lineage togetherness was necessary for the protection of one’s property. Now since this lineage ideal has been undermined by dependence on economic resources outside the lineage patrimony, it is easier to develop social units independently of the lineage or other kin group. In many cases, especially in the urban communities, lineage organisation has disappeared completely, been redefined beyond recognition, or is on the verge of doing so, and so far as people choose to live near their kin, these may be any kin, not necessarily members of the descent group.
This is what has been observed in many urban areas not built around any core ethnic group. But this may not necessarily be restricted to urban areas. If a closer look were given to the home villages of those migrant urban dwellers, it would be found that the fact of their departure, coupled with the other conditions of social change, has effected changes similar to those observed in the urban and employment centres. The absence of the migrant leaves a vacuum for which adjustments have to be made in order to maintain stability and the continuity of the society.
Pattern in Voluntary Associations
In West African City, with specific reference to the formation of associations Banton affirmed that other things being equal, the more the devolution of authority there was in a named traditional social structure, the more easily contractual associations were established (1957: 216). Restating Banton’s hypothesis, Parkin suggested that a tendency to create ethnic associations relates to the absence of specialised authority roles in the traditional system and relatively strong persistence of affective kinship relationships in the city; whereas, when kin relationships are looser knots, less restrictive, and more open to choice, with more reliance on traditionally based but continuing system of full-time chiefs, there is less the tendency to form associations (1969). This would not hold generally though for it omits some crucial factors, such as distance from [between] rural home and place of urban settlement [employment]. It would rather be reasonable to suggest quite simply that other things being equal [such as distance factor], the social structure of an ethnic group in its home area is one of the major determinants of the type of ethnic associations which its members form when they are away from home.
Among the Igbo [of southeastern Nigeria], the presence of age-based groupings and competitive title-taking is a given [primitive characteristic]. It however does not appear that traditional age organisation has had a very direct influence upon the immigrant Igbo associations, though it may strengthen the use of elders as patrons and etiquette between elders and juniors within the association. But competitive title-taking still provides a mechanism whereby Igbo people abroad reintegrate themselves at home by maintaining and often raising their status in this way. In so far as title-taking integrates personal ambition with the conferring of benefits upon one’s home group and thereby the competitive boosting of each articulated level of grouping to which one belongs, title-taking and ethnic associations become mutually reinforcing influences among the Igbo abroad, further manifested in the construction of ostentatious residences back home, the giving of scholarships for higher education of home boys abroad, and improvement of health, education, and welfare services generally. All these social activities minister both to the advancement and status renown of the individuals who pioneer them and to the well-being of the recipients, both aspects furthering the competitive standing of the group in relation to its rival coordinates at each level, from minor lineage to major lineage and clan, from corresponding village to village group or cluster, to town, district, region or province and ultimately the Igbo nation as a whole represented by the local branch of the Igbo nation (1965: Coleman, 333-41). The higher the level of membership grouping at which leadership, boosting, and welfare promotion occur, the higher the prestige and status to be gained in the process.
What are referred to as “clan” unions began to form in the 1930s, and by 1944, more inclusive associations such as the Mbaise Union appeared (Smock,1965). Within the Igbo State Union were regionally defined branches such as the Western Igbo Union [also in Lagos, Ibadan, and in Kaduna] and in each case within the regionally defined branches were several lower segmentary levels of branches based on the rural solidarity of more or less territorially inclusive districts, “ towns,” village clusters, villages and clans or lineages (Okonja, 1968). The precise nature of the rural solidarities reflected in the different levels of the Igbo Union is not reported but from all that has been written on the Igbo, it would appear that the influences of localised agnatic groupings was eminently important.
The associations and their activities have become fundamental to Igbo social life, so fundamental that, while technically they are regarded as voluntary associations in which membership is achieved by personal choice and not by ascription, such membership none the less appears to have become almost universal and, in effect, compulsory.
There has been a dialectical process whereby traditional structures at home were interpreted and transformed to the furtherance of new functions abroad, later feeding back home with the establishment at home of the organisation created abroad, thus by a double transformation regenerating the life of the home communities.
Never before had the Igbo been represented by an organisation claiming to speak for them as a whole until these associations appeared. The first appeared abroad, not at home, in the foreign cities to which the migrants had gone to work, not in the cities of their homelands. It was at a later stage that the associations formed branches to promote welfare and achievement in their home communities. Apart from the traditional structure, the type of administration experienced at the hands of colonial and now national governments has largely determined the pattern of transformation of traditional institutions; the form, length and intensity of Christian missionary activity and school education are other factors of the same type.
The major external factors are: the degree and intensity of involvement in migrant labour; how near or how far from home the place of employment is; the type of occupation, skilled or unskilled, or commercial or professional, and how, if at all, these relate to traditional occupations; further related aspects are the brevity or duration of urban involvement for the type of person in question, thus how many of each ethnic group are present in the place of employment and for how long, with wives or families or not, and the phase of transformation of the home society and the housing, and land and employment policy involved.
The host-migrant polarity although acknowledged as an “ideal-type” rather far removed from the empirical facts as a whole and therefore “necessarily crude” does draw attention to important differences of traditional authority systems; attitude towards women, right of paternity, bride wealth, interethnic marriage, and ideology of brotherhood.
The Yoruba, clearly a “host” people in their cities of southern Nigeria and Dahomey [the modern République Du Bénin], have formed many strong associations of ethnic type in cities which are both very distant from their homes and also in foreign countries such as in Niamey [République Du Niger], and in Freetown [Republic of Sierra Leone], not to speak of the formation of Egbe Omo Oduduwa in London [Great Britain] (Bernes, 1969: 167-169). Bernes sees it as directly derived from institutions of Yoruba society, but there is no clear exposition on this point. In Feetown, Yoruba ethnic organisation has for along time reflected rivalry between orthodox Muslims focused upon the mosque and non-Muslims focused upon the egungun society, which in this context falls into the pattern of secret societies characteristic of that part of West Africa (Banton, 1957).
Where the members are few, people necessarily select the level of identity which enables them to unite for mutual support. It has been plausibly held that lack of such associations in Apartheid South Africa was due to the pervasive racial cleavage between exploiting power-holding Whites and exploited, power-deprived natives. It should however be noted that at Windoek [in South West Africa as part of the Apartheid system of South Africa now Namibia], Africans were actually required by the German colonial administration to live in ethnic quarters and be ethnically represented. The situation was so entrenched that it continued up to the date of independence. Thus it can be said that while the system of Apartheid tended to obliterate ethnic cleavages among natives, it was possible for ethnic divisions imposed on the city by residential and administrative policy of the superior power that hoped to be. In many other instances other institutions, traditional or transitional perform some or the same tasks and meet some or the same needs, so that strictly ethic associations in the form we have been considering are not created.
In the strict sense, localised polysegmentary lineage cannot possibly be transformed from a rural to an urban setting. Rural lineage structure cannot be directly transferred, but its members can transfer their experience of it, and their continuing rights and obligations in it, into a new organisation which reflects distinctive characteristics of old, while encompassing some new objectives, being manipulated by new interests and factions in the urban situation and resting on voluntary rather than on ascribed membership. Other institutions and types of relationships, which are neither strictly localised nor ascriptive, are much more easily transferred without radical translation, as seems to be the case with patron-client ties, cult groups or secret societies. Even where such other directly transferable institutions do not provide a complete alternative, they may provide a partial one to many though not all people, as do all the other forms of association based on specialised roles, often in addition to specific ethnic identity, such as credit groups like the Yoruba esusu, craft organisations and unions of trade and market women, labour unions, or political parties. However, the more specialised the role base, the more likely the members are to be either thoroughly committed to permanent urban life or much higher status than those who form the rank and file of ethnic associations, even though some leaders of the latter may be much of higher status. At the same time, the more specialised the role interest, the more the organisation is the product and preserve of high status and exceptional people. At this point, the distinction between ethnic and non-ethnic associations may seem arbitrary, and certainly it becomes a matter of definition. But, in terms of our definition, the boundary is fairly clear. Mutual benefit societies which assist with burial and sickness may be clearly ethnic because these exigencies are not special but are seen to involve all, especially because of collective kin responsibilities which are recognised. The real test is the importance attached to common ethnicity by the membership. On this basis, the manga’mbo dance group [among the Bamiléké of the Cameroons] – for instance, despite their specialised activity seem ethnic especially in the view of their wider goal of raising Bamiléké ethnic pride and status. The same may be true of cult groups which belong distinctively to a particular culture with an ethnic base.
The trends we have related involve the transformation of basic ethnic bonds, and some ties of more specific traditional institutions such as segmentary lineage to new activities in new situations, in particular the transformation of ascribed status to a new situation in which its implications become a matter of deliberate choice, hence of voluntary associations.
Where the traditional society already includes voluntary associations capable of direct transfer to new urban situations, the case is different – as with the Yoruba esusu credit groups or the egungun cult, which already offer roles for achievement by choice in the home cities of the Yoruba and can be transferred in much the same form to foreign cities where the Yoruba are migrants.
Banton, M. .P. (1957) West African City. I.A.I. for Oxford University Press, 1957. 216.
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