the turkana: mating patterns, family types, and social structures

t.greer recommended to me a paper on the mating patterns of the turkana of east africa (thanks, t!): Mating Structure of a Nomadic Pastoral Population (1982).

first, here’s a nice turkana person for ya (^_^):

turkana girl 02

the turkana mating patterns are interesting, i think, for a handful of reasons:

– they appear to uphold the notion that flatlanders tend to be outbreeders (see also here) — while mountaineers/peoples in marginal lands tend to be inbreeders;
– they also appear to uphold the notion that the greater the outbreeding, the looser the family and social structures (see…half of the blog);
– and they appear to contradict the notion that pastoralists tend to inbreed (see explanations from anthropologists the world over). hmmmm.

from the paper, the turkana live here in kenya:

turkana - map

and this region of kenya is fairly flat:

kenya - topography 02

the turkana who practice pastoralism (most of them — a few are agriculturalists) apparently do bring their herds (of camels and goats) uphill for grazing in the summer, but mostly they reside in the valleys, and they consider themselves to be flatlanders rather than mountaineers.

from the paper, we learn that the turkana have clans (28 patrilineal clans) [pg. 472], that they avoid marrying within those clans — in the study, 96% of those surveyed were married to someone from another clan [pg. 474], and that they even try to avoid marrying anyone closer than second cousins [pg. 472].

(one thing that the turkana do have which complicates the picture is polygamy. clearly polygamy, like cousin marriage, also results in closer relatedness [a lot of individuals in the population are half-siblings]. i haven’t thought through polygamy yet — what it means for relatedness. obviously it depends on if only a certain portion of the males get to mate and the remainder are left out or if the whole system is more of a rotating system of polygamy and women are swapped between most or all of the men. polygamy is complicated. i’ll have to think about it one of these days.)

so, what is turkana society like? what are their family types like? what about these clans then?

from Turkana (1996) [pgs. 16, 20-22]:

“The nuclear family is the basic social and political unit among the Turkana.”

uh…kinda.

“The family comprises a man, his wife or wives, his sons and their wives and children, and his unmarried daughters. In the homestead there might also be a grandparent or other relative and a concubine (a woman living in the household to whom he is not married).

“The man is the head of the family. The family is represented economically by its herd of livestock….

“The Extended Family

“Among the Turkana, the extended family (*ngi-tungakothi*) is made up of all males who can claim common descent on the male side. The unit could go back three or four generations. To members of the group, those within it are ‘our people.’ But strictly speaking, the extended family also includes the wives of each of these men if they have raised a child to walking stage. It excludes women who have married elsewhere and are no longer in the family.

“The core of the extended family, however, is essentially the son of a deceased father, his full brothers, his half-brothers, and his paternal male first cousins, along with the nuclear families of all these men…. Members also share fellowship on other such occasions as initiation, weddings, and judicial compensation, when there is mutual assistance in givings and receiving livestock.”

“judicial compensation” there is interesting. is that like wergeld? dunno. will have to find out more.

“The Clan

“Every Turkana belongs to a clan (*ateger*), of which there are about 20. They fall into two major types: the large, widespread clans, each comprising over 1,000 adult males, and the very small ones consisting of only about 30 members.

Clans are of little practical or political importance to the Turkana today, especially since clans no longer own herds or pastures or watering places…. Nor do travelling Turkana any longer expect help or hospitality from fellow clansmen. They would expect that help from bond-friends, people in various parts of the country to whom they have made a ritual commitment.

“bond-friends.” also very interesting.

from The Evolution of Human Societies: From Foraging Group to Agrarian State (2000), we learn that the turkana’s family and social structures are, indeed, really loose, and the whole “clan” structure seems to mostly be a system used to maintain the outbreeding (the exogamy) — a way to keep track of whom you’re not supposed to marry [pgs. 197-99]:

“Dyson-Hudson and McCabe (1985: 79-80) describe the degree to which Turkana groups form out of myriad individual decisions:

“‘Kinship, both agnatic and affinal, is an important basis for cooperative relationships. However since livestock are a readily partible resource, and since the frequent moves of camps and splitting of the major *awi* into satellite camps allow the breaking of old bonds and the establishment of new ones, a man has great latitude to choose to live with people he likes. A woman also has some choice: she can live with her father, her brother, or her grown sons, as well as with her husband. Flux and flexibility characterize [their] social networks.

Although the Turkana lack highly structured kin groups, territories, and a formal political system, they do establish and maintain large networks that amount to a kind of effective community for each homestead. First, hamletlike groups of close relatives and friends live and move together for part of the year. Second, such groups cluster within convenient walking distance of one another, and men in such a cluster meet often to take turns distributing freshly slaughtered meat and to share information on herds and pastures. These two levels of social organization (Gulliver calls them primary and secondary neighborhoods) provide the individual househead with a network of friends through which food and information flow, friends from whom he may beg insistently as a good Turkana should (Gulliver 1951; Patton 1982) and who will cooperate with him in defense against raiding. Although a family is free to move at will, in practice families tend to move with their neighbors and settle near them at new locations….

“The main cement of Turkana social organization, however, is the exchange of livestock. A nuclear family’s herds are all owned and managed by the father; and although their daily care falls to women and boys, spread over the countryside, there is a strong sense of the essential unity of the family and its herd. Some hamlet groups are the remnants of old extended families whose senior male has died: in such cases the brothers and in-laws continue to live near each other, and, because their herd once had a common owner, the men continue to feel part of one family. Often, as we have seen, the hamlet-size group also includes friends….

“How extensive is Turkana social structure? On the one hand, there are indicators of ‘tribal’ integration. The Turkana say, ‘We are all brothers,’ and respect this tribal identity by rarely raiding or using spears against one another (bandits, *igorokos*, are exceptions). They know and acknowledge the ‘territorial’ names of their regions. They also belong to clans, some of them small and localized, others widespread throughout Turkana land. In past times, apparently, whole regions of Turkana mustered thousands of warriors against non-Turkana enemies.

Yet in their daily life the Turkana are not conscious of themselves as a tribe. They have no tribal, territorial, or clan leaders, no corporate groups, and no genealogical reckoning beyond the grandparent level. They are highly individualistic and tend to migrate within circumscribed areas; even close-knit extended families usually separate at times in response to their individual needs….

also, from here:

There would appear to be no clan leadership or organisation. Gulliver states that ‘if one asks a Turkana who is head of his clan he usually replies *there is no head, we have no heads. They were all long ago.* However a few will give the name of a man of a clan recently alive, or an old man, who achieved fame and importance for some reason and say that he is the head. But enquiry shows that he has no authority over any of them outside his own extended family should he still be alive…’ (1951: 69).”

so, the turkana outbreed, and they have loose family and social structures. friends seem to be important (as important as family?). the turkana are individualistic, yet share readily with their friends.

they do go to battle, though. mostly with non-turkana peoples. sometimes the non-turkana steal the turkana’s animals, oftentimes it’s the other way around [from here]:

“Warfare is traditionally an essential part of Turkana life and the principal occupation of young men. Weapons are considered a man’s proud possessions and the practical tool for increasing herds by raiding and for expanding their territory. Ever since they entered Kenya, the Turkana have been in a perpetual process of expansion. Previously settled tribes such as the Samburu, Pokot, Donyiro, Toposa and Karamojong were forced out of their territory by belligerent Turkana warriors (Gulliver, 1951: 143). No administration has ever able completely to contain the Turkana and put an end to these conflicts. These common age-old pursuits still trouble independent Kenya.

Turkana believe that all livestock on earth, including that owned by other people, is theirs by right, and that there is nothing wrong in going after it and taking it by force. A young man, they say, must be prepared to die in pursuit of stock (Soper, 1985: 106).”

i love how people justify their own actions to themselves. (~_^) don’t mess with the turkana, though! they have wrist knives. yikes!:

turkana wrist knife 02

(note: comments do not require an email. fighting with wrist knives! (O_O) )

those clannish chechens

*update below*

of course the chechens are clannish. the entire caucasus region is clannish (via ed west)! via a tweet from mark weiner (links added by me):

“Russia: War Destroyed Chechnya’s Clan Structure (Part 1)”

“Moscow, 4 January 2002 (RFE/RL) — The Chechens of Russia’s North Caucasus region are a tight-knit society based on extended families, or clans, guided by a council of elders. These clans, which traditionally lived together in a single village, are called ‘taips.’ During Stalin’s infamous deportation of Chechens to Central Asia — and even now, as war and social unrest have forced thousands of Chechens to leave their home villages and scatter throughout the republic or abandon the region altogether — the links remain strong between members of a single taip.

“There are more than 150 taips in Chechnya, each with its own traditions and council of elders….

“Traditionally, taip members can recall the name of their original ancestor from whom the clan originates. They can also recite the names and details about the lives and deaths — often on the battlefield — of at least seven generations of male ancestors.

“Ian Chesnov is an anthropology professor at Russia’s State Humanitarian University in Moscow. He spent several years in Chechnya studying cultural traits. Chesnov says that according to Caucasus tradition, a member of a taip is never abandoned in time of trouble. To the contrary, a taip acts as a kind of family network that makes sure all members have the support they need….

“The taip forms the core of Chechen society — and, many Chechens believe, predetermines the characteristics and personalities of its members. The perceived link between clan and character type is so strong that taips are considered a key aspect of the region’s political life as well….

Chechnya’s taips fall into nine distinct ‘tukums,’ or tribes. Legend holds that all Chechens descend from an original family of nine brothers, a belief represented by the Chechen symbol, which depicts a wolf encircled by nine stars. Batuev describes the tukums’ function:

“‘The taips are organized in nine tukums. A tukum is a political-military union meant to function in cases of [outside] threats or aggression. [The tukums] used to unify all the [Chechen] nation and the taips.'”

A tukum has no leader and is composed of a loose group of clans who share a common ancestry….
_____

so, do the chechens inbreed/mate closely? according to the working theory around here, they ought to if they’re clannish (and they are). we should also be able to guess that the chechens have a history of inbreeding/close mating since they live in the mountains, and mountainous populations seem to have a tendency to inbreed (see also here) — like the auvergnats, for example.

from Mission in Chechnya (2002) [pg. 80] regarding some rules of the teips:

“4. Absolute marriage prohibition between members of one clan. This was the oldest rule. What caused such a prohibition? If those who are going to marry are in the same clan, they will not have numerous and healthy descendants — this is confirmed by the elders whose observation and life experience testified how negative the influence of close marriage was upon the descendants. The others assured them that the violation of exogamy would bring dangerous illness to those who were going to marry. Marriage prohibition inside a clan is not the consequence of a legislative act. Still, up to now the Chechens try to stick to this principle. Some clans taht took the way of exogamy violation (e.g. tsada khroevstsi) were shunned by the other clans. Why? Because a female relative of the father’s line is considered a sister of any member of the given clan. A blood relationship links with the Chechen people are so strong that they go through seven or eight generations. ‘Close’ or even ‘concerned’ relatives in the father’s line were not given the right either for marriage or for blood feud among themselves. Close relatives of the mother’s line, however, had the right for marriage and blood feud. It should be mentioned that the marriage inside the mother’s line for the first, second and the third generations was not recommended.

and from The Chechens: A Handbook (2005) [pg. 91]:

“Exogamy and endogamy

“To ensure the good health of their offspring, a prerequisite in the harsh mountainous environment, the Chechens tabooed not only close-relative marriage on both sides, but also interdicted association with any blood relative, which included all members of a clan. This meant that a man was constrained to seek his marriage partner from outside the clan, but from within the tribe: *taips* were strictly exogamous, whereas *tukhums* were endogamous entities. These traditional values are still adhered to even among city dwellers. Sources are not unanimous as to the prescribed degree of consanguineous removedness between potential marriage partners. It could be that there is no uniform rule espoused by all *tukhums*. However, at least three generations is the span of disconnectedness commonly agreed upon. Some *taips* of ‘foreign’ origin do not proscribe close kin marriages, this custom hinting at non-Caucasian or Daghestani origin.”

and from Ethnography and Folklore of the Georgia-Chechnya Border: Images, Customs, Myths & Folk Tales of the Peripheries (2008) [pg. 240]:

“Marriages within it are forbidden. The Kists and Ingush maintain this tradition strictly, though in Chechnya this tradition has changed under the influence of Islam. Previously, marriage to one’s third cousin was forbidden; now it is welcomed.

some mixed messages there, but the gist of it i think is:

– no marriage within the patrlineal clan — the teip
– you should, however, marry within the bigger tribe — the tukkhum
– you can marry maternal relatives, but probably not closer than third cousins — this cousin marriage ban is probably a holdover from when the chechens were christian [pg. 256]. in fact, third cousin marriages might even be preferred (this reminds me of the greeks).

all of this sounds almost exactly like the marriage systems amongst some of the populations in the balkans, especially amongst the albanians — i.e. avoiding paternal cousin marriage but allowing maternal (distant) cousin marriage. a bit of exogamy, but also a bit of endogamy.

size also matters. the smaller your population size, the smaller the gene pool is going to be and, so, the closer the mating ultimately — which is what matters here (i think).

there are 1,206,551 chechens in chechnya as of 2010 — let’s call it 1.2M. there are somewhere between 130 and 300 teips (patrlineal clans) in chechnya — let’s call it 215 (that’s right in the middle). that gives us ca. 5,580 individuals per teip.

there are nine tukkhums (the larger tribes) in chechnya. if we assume that there is the same number of teips in each tukkhum (which might not be the case), then that’s ca. 23-24 teips per tukkhum. 5,580 x 24 = 133,920 individuals in a tukkhum. how many of reproductive age (i never know this)? one quarter? one third? if it’s one quarter, you wind up with ca. 16,700 women you are allowed to marry if you’re a chechen guy. compare that to the millions you could marry in the u.s. — if you’re american.

so chechens are close breeders. they’re a small population that marries within an even smaller tribe and may even prefer maternal third cousin marriage.

it’s no wonder, then, that they still engage in blood feuds (just like the albanians). you’d half expect them to build tower houses for protection during clan disputes like the albanians or the maniots.

oh, wait.
_____

see also: Inside the deadly Russian region the Tsnarnaev family used to call home @foreign policy and Chechen asabiya and the Borat Brothers from steve sailer. *update* – and see also One Blessing Of Outbreeding from roissy.

previously: where do clans come from? and balkan endogamy and more on albanians

(note: comments do not require an email. chechen towers.)