May 7, 2011 at 13:41 #2214
Likoda Li-Mbog [Native Horizons: Authority Relations and the Management of Crises among the Basaa People of Southwestern Cameroon]
The title of this paper is “Likoda Li-Mbog.” It is a summary of a finished Ph. D. thesis in Systems Analysis. In the thesis, we examine the events of power and authority relations and the various ways in which they articulate an underlying epistemology and world-view. Specifically, the problem area relates to aspects of social control which arise from the grip of a world-view on a people’s behaviour. “Mbog,” to name the world-view, permeates every aspect of Basaa life. We, for the case of the Basaa people, have tried to show, an organic relationship between the manner in which a people are organised politically, and a system of knowledge, itself an adumbration of a world-view that we have named.
This study is on the Basaa people of Cameroon. The term “Cameroon,” designates a modern political entity namely, the Republic of Cameroon, in the vicinity of the Bight of Biafra [Gulf of Guinea], on the Atlantic coast of Africa. This space is shared by about 256 ethnic groups.
In terms of the land space they occupy and in terms of the number of people who, due to linguistic and various social structural affinities may be said to constitute one people, the Basaa people among the peoples of Cameroon are perhaps the most important single masses.
Known to researchers since the end of the nineteenth century, Basaa, the language they speak, has been almost unanimously considered as a Bantu language (Bot Ba Njock, 1962; Hebga, 1969; Mboui, 1965; Ngijol, 1967a). Doke in 1885 applied the term “Bantu” to a family of African languages with a similar structure to that of Zulu. In some cases the term is used to designate [speakers] of these languages. [Recent] linguistic works indicate that Bantu and Negro languages shared a common homeland in the eastern part of west Africa, in the region of Lake Chad and Cameroon and, further, that there was a nuclear centre where “Proto-Bantu” was spoken in the south of the Congo basin (Guthrie, 1967; Greenberg, 1972). From here the languages spread in most directions at different times (Oliver, 1966). A western and an eastern dialect area separated by the Rift Valley are also attested. The cultural space of the so-called Bantu-speaking peoples extends from 4° latitude North to 34° latitude South and spans out eastwards to 10° longitude.
According to Guthrie’s classification, Basaa-speaking peoples would be in the “Western Section” group of the Old-Bantu, a lower Sanaga subgroup. This great section begins at the edge of Lake Albert, follows the Congo corridor and spreads out on its [the Congo’s] right bank in the valleys of the Ubangi and Sanga. It then runs towards the sea along a strip between the estuaries of the Ogone and the Nyanga. Basaaland [of this study] and the Old-Bantu are found in the so-called North West Section: in the valleys of the Sanaga, the Nyong and the Wouri. The main languages of this section are Basaa, Duala and Maka-Njem. This list can be expanded to include Ewondo, Eton, Bulu, Fang and other such languages – the so-called Fang-Beti languages.
The specific geographical co-ordinates which locate Basaaland proper are the longitudes 03°45′ and 11°45′ to the east of Greenwich and the latitudes 03°05′ and 05°00′. It spreads on an area of 12150 square kilometres. In the protectorate, the Germans called it Bakokoland. It became the Sanaga-Maritime Region under French League of Nations and United Nations Organisation tutelage [Trusteeship and Mandated territory respectively (1921-1960)]. Later and today [since 1958] most of what used to designate the old Bakokoland was split into the Divisions of the Sanaga-Maritime, and the Nyong-and-Kelle. The rest of this old administrative unit are now parts of the Ocean, Nkam, Wouri and Mungo Divisions. If the number of inhabitants per square kilometre in Basaaland is taken to be between 15 and 18, Basaa people who continue to inhabit this space should be between 190,000 and 220,000.
In their history and mythology the Basaa people are supposed as one of several groups who moved away from the so-called Promised Land in the Middle-East, when some Hebrew-speaking peoples supposed to have moved out of Egypt, moved in to occupy the land. When they moved away from the peninsula, they are said to have crossed the Red Sea and in various waves of migration, they settled in different lands on the continent of Africa.
Statement of the problem
The title of this study is rightly, “Likoda Li-Mbog.” The longer title, “Native Horizons: Authority Relations and the Management of Crises among the Basaa People of Southwestern Cameroon” has been volunteered for its direct suggestiveness of a problem area of research, namely, the area of World-Views and Socio-political Structure and Relations.
The term “world-view” has been calqued from the German world “Weltanschauung.” “Welt” is the German word for “world” and “Anschauung” is the German word for “view” or “outlook.” Ordinarily, the term “Weltanschauung” denotes a comprehensive set of opinions, seen as an organic unity, about the world as the medium and exercise of human existence.
For any named group the “Weltanschauung” serves as a framework for generating various dimensions of human perception and experience like knowledge, politics, economics, religion, culture, science, and ethics. It may be considered as comprising a number of basic beliefs which are philosophically equivalent to the axioms of the world-view considered as a logical theory. These basic beliefs cannot, by definition, be proven [in the logical sense] within the world-view precisely because they are axioms, and are typically argued from rather than argued for. We have mostly used the term to refer to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which a people interpret the world and interact with it.
Sometimes we have meant the posture of a people. The Weltanschauung of a people originates from the unique world experience of the latter, from their experience in their existence over several millennia. It emerges as holistic representations of the wide world perception.
The term “likoda” of the title of this paper derives from the Basaa verb “kod” [to assemble]. This verb would be used in reference to things which are assembled, or parts of a thing which are fitted together to give a whole.
The term “mbog” relates to the folk image, and to the process of its transmission from generation to generation. In this consideration it transpires that “mbog” would be identity securing. In our usage the term mostly alludes to an identity-securing entity, and to a moral system. Or else it designates the Basaa conception of the nature of things and Basaa standards in general: a system of knowledge, the epistemology which underpins the posture of the Basaa man. In the term “likoda li-mbog” the meaning of the term “mbog” we propose is “of people.”
In a sense the term “likoda li-mbog” can be rendered as “the event of solidarity among a group,” “an existence together determined by a shared world-view.” Likoda li-mbog = assembling of people – the term “people” meaning individuals in an existence together the basis of which is a system of values, norms, mores and usii, and perhaps a history they share. “Mbog Basaa” for instance, which has been rendered as the “Basaa Nation,” suggests a people, and the system of values, norms, mores and usii they share. As we use the term [likoda li-mbog] in this study, it encompasses the idea of keeping in place together as when a family or some other social entity exists as one.
In our usage the term “likoda li-mbog” alludes to the existence together of a people and the processes out of which an existence together arises.
A birth, a naming ceremony, a circumcision or puberty rite, a marriage, the initiation of an individual into some lore, death – each of these events implies for every member of a group, an acquisition or ritual change of status, and implies the coming into being or changes of relationships and attendant relations. Other events which would have similar effects are a felony and the flouting of a tribal law. The meaning of the term “crisis” which will grip the discussions of this study is that which relates to events in the basic transitions in the life cycle of an individual, and breaches of the tribal law, in the manner in which they affect the existing lot of relationships and relations in a given group. The tribal assembly – let us use this term – is an event of social structure which enables a group to manage contingency [flux] in the case of a crisis. Likoda li-mbog among the Basaa people would be an archetype.
We also relate the term “likoda li-mbog” to a specific institution – that of the custom of meetings which arise whenever a Basaa group has to deal with a crisis or a turning point in the life of one of its members or of the group as a whole. Hence our rendering of the term as “the tribal assembly.” The tribal assembly in its constitution and in its functioning crystallises the essence of political order among the Basaa people. In this study, we give a critical statement on the structure and organisation of the tribal assembly, specific processes out of which it might have arisen, and its social control function.
In a simple manner of stating the research problem of our study, we propose the fathoming of the constellation of events which concur to that of the assembly of the tribe, the assembly of the tribe itself considered as a custom or as a social institution.
On the concept of crisis, lest we are misunderstood, we restate the meaning we uphold: essentially, we refer to turning points in the life of an individual and to the incidence of changes in the status of the individual on a given group. Instances of such events in Basaa social life that we think of would be the usual life’s crises of birth, puberty [for the girl child, the event of her first menstrual flow; for the boy child, that of circumcision], when one becomes an adult [the time when a man builds a house, takes a wife, and becomes a father], exceptional events like when the group has to decide on who inherits some revered artefact of family traditions; the situation which arises when a major taboo is flouted, when the group has to deal with the restive spirit of a dead man which manifests itself in the form of frightful presences, witchcraft; controversy over the status of an individual whose mother’s husband would not acknowledge his paternity; when a spouse reneges the contents or some of the contents of the marriage contract, a betrothed who becomes pregnant for a third person; and such other events.
Objective(s) of the study
In the study of social structure the reality with which the social anthropologist is concerned is the actually existing relations at a given moment of time, which link together certain human beings. It however is not that he attempts to describe it in its particularity. Rather the anthropologist seeks an account of the form of the structure. In a study on the phenomenon of power, if he in a number of instances considers the behaviour towards one another of persons who stand in the relation of kinship, it is in order the he may be able to record as precisely as possible the general or normal form of this relationship, abstracted from the variations of particular instances, though taking account of those variations.
When social anthropologists choose a convenient locality of a suitable size, they study the structural system as it appears in and from that region, that is, the network of relations connecting the inhabitants among themselves and with the people of as many localities as they wish. The use of comparison is indispensable. The study of a single society may offer occasion for hypotheses which then need to be tested by reference to other societies.
In addition to morphological studies, consisting in the definition, comparison and classification of diverse structural systems, there is a physiological study. The problem here is: How do structural systems persist? What are the mechanisms which maintain a network of relations in existence, and how do they work? In what he thus calls social physiology the anthropologist is not only concerned with social structure but with every kind of social phenomenon. Morals, law, etiquette, religion, government, and education are all parts of the complex mechanism by which social structure exists and persists. In taking up the structural point of view, social anthropologists study these things not in abstraction or isolation but in their direct and indirect relations to social structure, that is, with reference to the way in which they depend upon, or affect the social relations between persons and groups of persons.
In the sense of standardised modes of behaviour, customs, and social institutions constitute the machinery by means of which a social structure, a network of social relations, maintains its existence and its continuity.
Our study aims at a critical statement on the structure and organisation of the tribal assembly, specific processes out of which the tribal assembly [in its form among the Basaa people and in its mode of functioning] might have arisen, and on its social control [pattern-maintaining] function.
We have assumed the systems approach. In the systems approach the proposal is that the institutions of a society be studied in their relationship with one another. This correlation must be taken into account in the explanation of any single one for the correlated institutions are not independent institutions, but are parts of one system. No explanation of one part of the system is satisfactory unless it fits in with an analysis of the system as a whole.
In the manner of Radcliffe-Brown, we seek to reveal the fit between any given social usage [custom] and the group within which it occurs; how it emerges from specifics of the context in which it occurs, and the function it fulfills – “the function” referring to the contribution which a social usage makes to the total activity of which it is a part. We suppose that the structure of the group in the process of its functioning causes the coming into being of any named social usage and that the social usage has a contribution to the total social life – itself implying a condition in which all the parts of the society under consideration work together with a sufficient degree of internal consistency.
Review of the literature
Under the subtitle “Review of the literature,” we relate the building blocks of organised social life paying particular attention to how people come to be together and how government might have arisen. This discussion ends with a brief statement on specific customs of the management of crises to include the appreciation of the works of some social anthropologists which concerned the phenomenon of mbog among the Basaa people.
Montesquieu’s discussion of the content of “principles” of government turns on the part played by law, mores and religion in providing a system of co-ordinated political values and beliefs. Ideology is viewed essentially [fundamentally], as a constraining entity, as the most important means of social control available to man. For it is when the system of social order breaks down, where a unified ideology has not been systematically developed, that despotism and slavery exist. Similarly monarchy, where it exists, depends upon the development of a false ideology – “honour” – which subordinates equal men to an authority system in which they owe allegiance to an individual, and their political liberty is repressed by his absolute and “divine” power. In a republic the laws assume the status of a system of knowledge: they tell a man how he should act if he is to act in accordance with the basic uniformity of human nature.
It is to related things that we allude in the term “mbog” among the Basaa people of Cameroon – to a system of norms which define how people are expected to act and the very process of social interaction itself. Based on an indigenous epistemology, “mbog” among the Basaa people explains or legitimates social arrangements, the structure of power or ways of life in terms of goals, interests, or social positions within the group. Mboui’s “Mbog Liaa” (1967) has been volunteered as a broader statement of mbog. The epicus relates a genesis and its numerous avatars. In the beginning nine men emerge from a grotto. No mention is made of the beginning of the universe. Immediately, we are presented with deeds and acts of men, and of society. Disagreement among men is crucial for the advent of increasingly complex institutions. Mode Sop [a scourge desired by the Most Supreme], the personage who defiles sacred places is born and death came with its accompaniments of diseases, and suffering. To contend with misfortunes and distress, the first men delegated one among themselves to teach a new life to human beings: exogamy and family and kinship ties, the system of clans, marriage and the duties of the spouses and the allying families. The regime of assemblies where decisions arise from a people’s palaver and the djai are instituted with an emphasis on the absence of any authority which would be exercised on the group from the outside (Mboui, 1967: xxxi). The term “mbog” would thus designate a dispensation. The very term “mbog liaa” may be rendered as the dispensation at the time of the origination – the order in the land of a certain epoch. Appreciate the similitude of this position with the submission of Fustel de Coulanges’ in La Cité antique [quoted by Radcliffe-Brown, (1952: 162)]. A comparison of beliefs and laws Fustel de Coulanges affirmed, shows that a primitive system [religion] constituted the Greek and Roman family, established marriage and paternal authority, fixed the order of relations and consecrated the right to property and the right to inheritance. This system, after having enlarged and extended the family, formed a still larger association, the city, and reigned in that as it had reigned in the family. From it came all institutions, as well as the private law, of the ancients. It was from this that the city received all its principles, its rules, its usages and its magistracies.
In the epicus, Ngog, Mbaŋ and Maŋal [of the origination], are initiates into the lore of the Land of the Grotto: among the Basaa people, every time that a man is initiated into mbog, it is a re-enactment of initiation as it occurred when the ancestors we named above were taken to various portals of the Grotto. In the unfolding of the episode related in the epicus, initiation was for leadership.
In his thesis on some aspects of African existentialism, Bayiga (1966: 65) split the term “mbombog” [initiate into mbog], into its component monemes, namely, “mbom” and “mbog.” The term “mbog” referred specifically to the fetish which was added to a medicine of nge, and from the meaning of the term “mbom” when it is rendered as the forehead, symbolical of that which comes first, the first mbombog would be the head of the oldest family of the land [land = mbog = the state].
In the paragraph under the subtitle “Ngue et Mbog” of a thesis in theology, Nyom (1964) gives a statement on who was a “mut mbog.” The mut mbog was an initiate into mbog through whom nge exercised and held power in a given village or Basaa community.
Ndebi Biya (1976) reads Mboui’s “Mbog Liaa” as the presentation of mbog as Basaa charter and folk wisdom enveloped in a recital. It would seem that in the recital one is dealing with a disincarnate speech, related to the Old Basaa, sometimes having the semblance of a myth, at other times actually seeming to be history in the modern sense of the term. One gets the impression that long long ago, an event occurred and for sure the event had an incidence on the history of the Basaa people: the event may even be the very establishment of the Basaa society itself. In this aspect mbog it is suggested, is the very mould on which the Basaa society is cast: it is the proto-history which underpins Basaa history.
Goldmann (1969: 35) had affirmed that, the historical and the human sciences are not, like the physico-chemical sciences, the study of a collection of facts external to men or of the world upon which their action bears. On the contrary, they are the study of this action itself, of its structure, of the aspirations which enliven it and the changes that it undergoes. On the other hand, since consciousness is only one real, but partial aspect of human activity, historical study does not have the right to limit itself to conscious phenomena; it must connect the conscious intentions of the actors of history to the objective meaning of their behaviour and action.
We have identified “mbog” among the Basaa people as that which is responsible for social order. Implicitly, the question of its nature in epistemic terms arises: what is it comprised of and what is the nature of its components? We would also be interested in its location in the social structure. Perhaps, it is of the physical environment. Otherwise, it would be of the very being of Basaa people. Further, we would want to consider the possibility of freezing it for the purpose of studying it. In addition to the kind of knowledge that we can have, these are fundamental questions which must always be considered in the scientific study of any social phenomenon. The position at which we will arrive would enable us to consider yet a final question, namely, the question of the very nature of the fit between “mbog” and social order and probably whether “mbog” is a unique Basaa thing or whether it is just a variant of some universal which may be found among any people.
The purview – in terms of a view of society – of our study is a system with a specifiable mode of organisation based on yet another at once implicit and explicit. “Mbog,” to name the other system, permeates every aspect of Basaa life. As a system of meanings, “mbog” amounts to a complete view of the world: ways in which a people perceive their shared reality.
In terms of an analysis of intentional acts, we in this study have tried to reconstitute the totality of meaning embodied in “mbog.” The crucial question which enchained our consideration was how this culturally integrating totality could be distilled from the various “objectifications” of the Basaa world, and how one could give a theoretical account of it. In other words, the question was one of interpreting smaller-scale cultural phenomena as components of a Weltanschauung.
In an essay, “The Interpretation of Weltanschauung,” Mannheim (1952) developed the notion that Weltanschauungen, as total systems of meaning, were to be seen as historically specific entities with precise socio-temporal locations, using the concept of “documentary meaning” to refer to the reception of a cultural production in such a context and thus to provide a means to characterising Weltanschauungen in terms of the ways in which they are formed socially. Any cultural product, Mannheim argued, displayed three distinct strata of meaning: (a) its objective meaning; (b) its expressive meaning; (c) its documentary or evidential meaning. The objective meaning was what is grasped by Weber’s “aktuelles Verstehen”: the basic identification of an action. When for instance a friend of Mannheim’s gave a coin to a beggar the action was classified under such a concept as “assistance.” If the purpose of this act was to convey a feeling of sympathy, this would be the “expressive meaning,” the meaning that was subjectively intended. “Documentary meaning” was elicited by a higher order interpretation: “That is, analysing all the implications of what I see, I may suddenly discover that the act of charity was, in fact, one of hypocrisy,” (Mannheim, 1952: 47). We can, Mannheim points out:
on occasion apply this last mode of interpretation to ourselves as well. The expressive-intentional interpretation of one of our acts was immediately given in the living context and we can always bring it back to consciousness (except, of course, in cases where memory fails us). But the documentary significance of an action of ours is quite another matter and may be as much a problem for us as if in our own objectifications we were brought face to face with a total stranger. Hardly anywhere is there such a sharp contrast between the expressive and the documentary interpretation as in this borderline case of self-regulation.
(Mannheim, 1952: 48)
The documentary meaning of a cultural phenomenon, or at least part of that meaning, is given by its place in a larger structure such as a Weltanschauung. The invocation of documentary meaning in a historicist context gives an “objective” status to Mannheim’s sociological methodology and functions in much the same way as Weber’s verstehen method: that is to say, it is wholly interpretative in its typological forms.
Through what we consider “mbog” to be, we trace partial manifestations of “mbog” back to mbog itself. Specific issues we were on the look out to collect data on were social status, the content of political socialisation and political authority, events of meetings and the mode of functioning of systems of meetings.
We sought to grasp folk conceptions of membership, authority and power; authority and power differentials and attendant power relations; folk statement on what the tribal assembly is, what it is meant for, and the processes involved in its functioning; the connection between concepts of social structure and beliefs in their specific manifestations when crises arise. Our main data collection techniques were participant observation, conversations and light chats, documentary and oral collections. In various situations, with diverse personalities, we inquired about the meanings of terms and of actions of topical interest. A number of works in existing literature which seemed directly related to our study were positively explored; some of the contents were considered (treated) as data and [interpreted and analysed] as such. Description and analyses [and discussion] were integrated – the nature of our data and of ethnographic reporting explained our option. We broke down our data and related particular items to the categories we mentioned above.
When a social scientist proceeds in this manner, the central question may be formulated simply as the possibility of grasping subjective meanings through a system of objective concepts. He proceeds, according to Schutz (1967), by observing “certain facts and events within social reality which refer to human action” and from these observations, he constructs “typical behaviour or course-of-action pattern.” He in effect, constructs an abstract model of the “world of everyday life” in accordance with the demands of his scientific problem which once established, alone determined the criteria of relevance and the conceptual scheme to be used so that these models and concepts are not to be construed as being arbitrary. This involves building up what Schutz calls “meaning contexts,” classes of experience through similarity, sets of criteria if you wish, by means of which we organise our experience into a meaningful world.
Above the purely biological or physiological constitution of human reality, the chief components and things which matter at all are the processes of institutionalisation, legitimation, and internalisation of intersubjectively constructed social reality. Each of these analytic-empirical categories is founded on a kind of sociological theory [The Paris Manuscripts] which sees man as a species who produces his own human nature in a social environment. The argument runs as follows: for the fact that humans have very few stable specific instincts, the stability of social life must come from the social environment which they themselves create; in this environment, it is the overarching values and meanings initially religious, which provide the real focus of social organisation. Institutionalisation, legitimation and internalisation of social reality consequently involve the realities of a constructed social order.
Central to this “problem of social order” is the conceptualisation of knowledge as something wholly social, and the concepts of “recipe knowledge” and “social stock of knowledge” are the means by which phenomenological sociologists accomplish this (Berger and Lukmann, 1967). The concepts of recipe knowledge and of the social stock of knowledge serve as hooks so to speak, on which the social world is hung: recipe knowledge constitutes the categorised and communicable knowledge members of a society must have for their practical competence in routine performances. Let us say that it is knowledge that is linked to everyday life – what members of a society must know to exist routinely in their social environment. We here have recipe knowledge forming a core element of the social stock of knowledge which makes up the ensemble of available knowledge. It represents an integrated whole available to all members of an intersubjectively constructed social reality. On occasion Berger and Luckmann say:
I live in the common-sense world of everyday life equipped with specific bodies of knowledge. What is more, I know that others share at least part of this knowledge and that they know that I know this. My interaction with others in everyday life is therefore, constantly affected by our common participation in the available stock of knowledge.
(Berger and Lukmann, 1967: 56)
The social stock of knowledge constitutes a structure of sets of recipe knowledge [a system] in the image of the roles society’s members have to perform, and gives to members a differentiation of reality by degrees of familiarity. In the words of Berger and Luckmann, “it provides complex and detailed information concerning those sectors of everyday life with which ‘I’ must frequently deal and provides much more general and imprecise information on remoter sectors” (Berger and Luckmann, 1967: 57).
The social stock of knowledge provides information by making available “typificatory schemes” of both social and natural knowledge: the validity of the latter is “taken for granted” and is only called into question when “what everyone knows,” for conducing rather to disruption in interpersonal relations, does not for a moment seem to be what it is thought to be. For the individual, such consensually valid typifications are made in terms of his biographical interests, or his knowledge of others’ interests – “relevance structures,” to use the term of the authors, or even the interests of the social stock of knowledge itself. Part of the social stock of knowledge is its social distribution, and knowledge of the way it is distributed is “an important element of that same stock of knowledge.”
When interpretative sociologists consider the question of social order per se, they propose a fairly typical view of the process of institutionalisation. Institutionalisation, the “reciprocal typification of actions by types of actors,” is the primary mechanism of social control. It is true, initially: behaviours that have been habitualised may undergo modifications. However, on transmission to a new generation they assume an “objectivity” which allows them to function as Durkheimian social facts – both external and coercive to the individual.
In the reproduction of any social reality, certain actor-relevant behaviours are objectified into institutions with some externality to individuals and can be internalised as the natural way of doing things by the socialisation of a new generation. The legitimation of the institutions it is argued, takes the form of their explanation and their justification, at the level of meaning. Empirical coherence among the institutions despite the absence of some discernable internal logic suggests that an understanding of their integration involves some comprehension of the knowledge that its members have of it. We here submit that the analysis of such knowledge is a prerequisite of any analysis of the institutional order. Of course, the premiss is an unquestioned consensus on basic values and beliefs: agreement is taken as a given on the institutional order for knowledge if it to be taken as the focus of study.
We use the term “role” to designate the expected behaviour of the incumbent of some social position. In interpretative Sociology we are told that institutions are internalised by roles. Acting in conformity with the content of his role, the individual is involved in a social world: the internalisation of the role performance allows this world to become subjectively real to the role player. But not all roles have the same institutional importance: some strategic roles may symbolise and represent the entire institutional order of a society. We name the Basaa mbombog [plural: ba-mbombog] as the paragon of such a role. In this sense, roles define knowledge, the fact of a social distribution of knowledge – a dichotomisation of knowledge into general and role specific types being implicit. This in turn implies systems of social organisation implying role differentiation.
If anything can be called the central theme of this variety of Sociology it would be the concept of the “symbolic universe.” The concept of the symbolic universe is the locus of its entire argument about the binding up of social order and knowledge. The term would be the English term for “mbog”: an overarching universe of meaning within which the institutional order is located. Berger and Luckmann refer to a “symbolic universe” level of legitimation which comes close in meaning with the concept of “Weltanschauung” – a culturally integrating totality which encompasses all aspects of life within it. It integrates all institutions and institutional roles. The symbolic universe enables the individual to locate his own mortality within a secure context and the society to see itself within a historical continuity. It also defines what shall be considered as “social,” including a ranking of sociability from high to low, and a ranking of other non-social phenomena in terms of it.
The nature of symbolic universes does not apparently allow them to be, however secure their social base, self-constituting: when the symbolic universe has a legitimation problem they require “conceptual machineries of universe maintenance.” These super-legitimating things are in the main, total cognitive systems which evolve historically from mythology through systematic advances in theoretical content to theology, and to philosophy. The conceptual machinery of universe maintenance is itself of course socially organised. It is in that sense possible to relate the persistence of certain symbolic universes to the power of the social-structural base of the group holding them. And so our interest in the study of the personnel of groups who [on occasion may be thought to be the custodians of mbog] actually produce “legitimating theories” presumably relating their activities to the interests of “relevance structures” of the social group they represent.
This study is in five chapters.
In Chapter one, we give a restatement of the title to situate it in a sociological problem area. The problem area relates to aspects of social control which arise from the grip of a world-view on a people’s behaviour. In this chapter, we have also considered a number of concepts of topical interest as would sharpen the statement of the problem of the study, namely, a study of processes out of which social order results and the relevance of the system of values and norms in these processes. Under the subtitle “Review of the literature,” we relate the building blocks of organised social life paying particular attention to how people come to be together and how government might have arisen. This discussion ends with a brief statement on specific customs of the management of crises to include the appreciation of the works of some social anthropologists which concerned the phenomenon of mbog among the Basaa people.
Chapter Two is a statement on the purported origin and the identity of the Basaa people. Our submission in this chapter draws heavily from the works of Ngijol and from oral history. The decision to include a chapter on the origin and history of the Basaa people arises from our desire to say it again who the Basaa people are.
In Chapter Three and Chapter Four we describe the social organisation of the Basaa people. We started with what we term “the basic atoms of social life,” to ultimately consider the Basaa system of kinship. In our consideration, kinship is a feature of the grip of mbog in the domain of relationships that obtain among a people. As in many other ethnic systems, kinship greatly determines the political organisation of the Basaa people.
In Chapter Five we do a systematic analysis of specifically political entities among the Basaa people. We named the various political categories among the people, sectors in the machinery of interest aggregation and decision making, the processes on the way to decision making per se. The main issues we considered are the basis of political power and the personality of the mbombog.
Findings and discussion
According to the lineage system, three conditions are necessary and sufficient for the status of the citizen, namely, the individual should be identifiable with a named territory, and be of a smudge-free noble descent. Every descendant of the nine originating Ancestors of Ngog Lituba, who could substantively prove the attributes we named above was ipso facto, an acknowledged citizen. As a citizen, he had the right to speech during meetings at various levels. He would vote and stand to be voted for. However, not everyone exercised these prerogatives all the time. A isaŋ mbai [lordling] for instance, would be a lesser voice in terms of moral weight among a group which had a isaŋ liten [senior lord] o. Equally, was it that the dikoo di mbog [general term for dignitaries] were not involved in decision making and in the institution of novel edicts when a meeting assembled bakaa mbog [senior dignitaries].
Among the Basaa people the rules are that children belong to the group of their father. On marriage a wife removes to the local group of the husband, inheritance and succession are in the male line, and authority over members of the family is in the line of the father or his relatives. The status and authority of individuals who belong to the same family are defined by the stratified successive generational layers, and by chronological age. All members in a senior generation enjoy higher status and authority than those in a junior generation and among members of each differentiated group of relatives of the same generational level, older members take precedence over younger ones. In a given generation, every male enjoys authority over all younger siblings. The youngest of siblings is under the authority of his older brothers, individually and taken together. Perhaps this youngest of siblings has no authority over anyone: in the context of primogeniture, if he has any authority at all it would be exercised on his own offspring and the offspring of his siblings.
On the question of consecration for leadership, as it would be expected of a group with a patriarchal organisation, a man of some age would ordinarily institute the oldest among his offspring as his heir. The basis of the choice however also includes level-headedness, a track record of responsibility and remarkable rallying abilities. The choice of the oldest of male offspring is not a fast rule: the choice of heir may not fall on the oldest of male offspring or even on own offspring.
In the understanding of the Basaa people themselves, mbog, when it is personified in the consecrated individual, designates levels of initiation into mbog. The authority of the mbomgbog derives from his initiation. In the part of the universe in which he was sovereign his pacificatory action made him a venerated individual among his folk.
At the head of each family there was an initiate into the first level of mbog. A mbombog to begin with is the head of a house, and then according to his level of initiation into mbog, head of a clan, and a head among the collegiate of the ba-mbombog [pl.of mbombog] of the land of Basaa people. The higher the level of mbog into which an individual was initiated the more extended is his power to command.
The general picture of the paradigm of authority among the Basaa is as follows: ba-mbombog comprised the people’s assembly – what we have termed “likoda li-mbog.” It was presided over by the nkaa-mbog when all Basaa groups congregated, and by the mbombog when the meeting assembled a single tribe [a number of houses].
Authentic participants arose from among the ngweles [of noble birth, not of mixed blood], the landed nobility. A senior dignitary [the nkaa-mbog, mbombog, hikoo mbog, and such other] must be ngweles, in the direct line of descent from the founder of his group. In the council of ba-mbombog or likoda li-mbog the elected participant sat with a deliberative voice. By virtue of the status of his lineage, of his tribe, of his ethnic group or of the Basaa nation, he was the depository of power. At each of these three levels, he was the personification of mbog.
This study is of the system of authority of the Basaa people. Our point of departure has been the constellation of views on the concepts of power and authority relations in organised social life that are found in the anthropology literature. Some works we would name and refer to are, “Values, norms and the integration of complex social systems” by Bridewell, Montesquieu: Pioneer of Sociology of Knowledge, by Stark, “Mbog Liaa” and “La vie domestique chez les Basaa du sud Cameroun” by Mboui, and “Le système Mbog” by Robert Ndebi Biya. In an article entitled “L’anthropologie africaniste” Balandier considered what he termed “La contribution africaniste à la connaissance profonde du phénomène du pouvoir.”
In Parsons’ idealised social system he talks of “shared value standards, regarding what is, what is nice, and what is good” – that is, standards regarding the cognitive, cathectic and evaluative aspects of an individual’s orientation to the world. The most important processes are seen as the communication of meaning, of symbols and information. Habermas would refer to an organisationsprinzip [a fundamental principle of organisation] which delimits in the abstract the possibilities for alterations of social states, and from a life-world perspective, he thematises a group’s steering mechanism [values and institutions]. Events and states are analysed from the point of view of their dependency on functions of integration and pattern maintenance. Vico referred to the “civic world” which exists in terms of actions, thoughts, religious beliefs, myths, and norms and institutions.
We, for the case of the Basaa people, have tried to show, an organic relationship between the manner in which a people are organised politically, and a system of knowledge, itself an adumbration of a world-view that we have named.
“The world” is the broadest environment that is cognitively, practically and emotionally relevant. We thus talk about “the world” in which we live, “the Lebenswelt.” This “world” can differ, depending on the form of social life that we consider. We can therefore speak of “the world of the Antiquity” or “the world of the Basaa people.” “The world” would not be identified with the earth, nor with “the observable universe” but with the totality in which we live and to which we can relate ourselves in a meaningful way.
Societies as well as individuals, have always contemplated deep questions relating to their being and becoming, and of the world. The configurations of answers to these questions form their world-views.
World-views encapsulate circulated “meanings,” types of behaviour which are passed on from generation to generation, socio-political problems which arise, styles of art and such and other events. They arise from people’s experiences and practical dealings with things, as well as from their interpretations of history and of scientific knowledge of the world. For this reason they are not congealed entities or copies of the world, but somehow, they try to capture as much as possible, all aspects of given worlds.
The amounts of meaning [worthiness ] in the life of a people are a function of the extent to which they are aware of the central components of a given world-view. Subjects capable of speaking and acting can develop the unity of their person only in connection with identity-securing world-views and moral systems. The unity of the person requires the unity-enhancing perspective of a life-world that guarantees order and has both cognitive and moral-practical significance.
The fundamental function of world-maintaining interpretive systems is the avoidance of chaos. The legitimation of the order of authority and basic norms can be understood as a specialisation of this “meaning-giving” function. Religious systems originally connected the moral-practical task of constituting Ego- and group-identities [differentiation of the Ego vis-à-vis the social reference group on the one hand, and differentiation of the collective vis-à-vis the social and the natural environment on the other hand] with the cognitive interpretation of the world [mastery of problems of survival that arise in the confrontation with outer nature] in such a way that the contingencies of an imperfectly controlled environment could be processed simultaneously with the fundamental risks of human existence.
In the domain of power the pertinence of a world-view would be indicated by the extent of fit between the spirit of the latter and power as it is conceived among a people and the ensuing system of authority. Social categories as may arise among a people and relations related to power differentials always reflect the traditions of a people. However, the congruence between the spirit of a world-view and the total life of a people is a function of the relevance of the latter in real life situations. It would be sensible to talk of a continuum in the extent to which a world-view actually grips the behaviour of a people. The extremes would be the case of complete determination of the latter, and another of perhaps a total disconnection. Various events in the continuum would depict greater or lesser pattern [regularity] in relationships in general, and in power relations and political structure in particular. The path from a given individual to a Basaa man of stature in terms of knowledgeability in the mores and usii and in terms of an awareness of Basaanity in him is a necessary socialisation which in the ideal of instances would give a mbombog – a citizen, a typical Basaa man.
The central event in our scheme is the event of pattern – our term for order or regularity, and thus for stability and the possibility of systemic reproduction. The mbombog – situated at the apex of a peculiar system of hierarchy – is the paradigm par excellence, of pattern among the Basaa people. When the problem of cultural integration is viewed from the perspective of space-time rather than from a purely functional, formal or ideational standpoint, it appears that the reality of a culture consists in its continuity. Each culture is to be understood as a unique, irreversible continuum of traditions and experiences which have been acquired by a society in the course of its psychosocial life. This provides us with an empirical criterion of the identity of a given culture. A culture may be said to be self-identical insofar as its adherents are conscious of the continuity of their cultural life and experience. Just as an individual has a sense of personal identity to the extent of his retention of memory of his past, so a society may be said to possess the same culture insofar as its members retain a sense of historical continuity of their present cultural ways with those of the past.
In the Basaa people, we have a definite instance of a modern people who have retained a sense of historical continuity of cultural tradition, their dispersion among so many nations of the world notwithstanding
Anticipating the query as to what are the specific findings of our study, we would rather, in a synopsis, relate the perennial question of the purpose or raison d’être of the so-called social sciences. We are specifically concerned with Sociology and Social Anthropology per se and would be exigent on the content of any study that would qualify the said study as a study in Anthropology. The issues of mainstream Social Anthropology exact characteristic approaches.
Could we manage the question of the manner in which our work would be put in use in deliberate schemes for social action and change? We would not give a direct response. What have we done? What questions do we ask? What did we set out to do?
We definitely identified a problem. The basic question we posed was: “What do we have here?” – a question of the content of a social phenomenon, as opposed to one of the cause of a named social problem. This explains why we did not propose probable answers or why our premisses are not hypothesis-bound. Let us say that in our enterprise we have tried to show patterns – where it would seem there is none – in Basaa social life, and their relation to an ordering system.
A study on world-views, although we are concerned with its practical import and pertinence, will always be primarily an experience of theoretical interest. It reflects the unlimited openness of the human mind to reality as a whole. Even though this study would not appear to be of any immediate value or necessity, studies of its kind should be promoted and encouraged energetically, for they also suggest the most unselfish striving for humanity, namely, “the desire to know,” a property of “Homo sapiens sapiens.”
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