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The mothers brother of South Africa

(Radcliffe Brown)

My presentation in on the topic of The mothers brother in South Africa from the book entitled Structure and function in the primitive society by the British anthropologist A.R Brown who is regarded as the father of structural-functionalism. The distinct kinship system of the indigenous tribes of South Africa has drawn attention of a large number of Anthropologists and Brown was one of those Anthropologists who conducted research on their kinship system. While observing their kinship, he found a special relationship to be there between the mothers brother and the sisters son though it is found in almost every primitive society most part of the world. He noticed that the relation is so deep that The uterine nephew is an object of special cares on the part his maternal uncle. The nephew may take away any cattle from his uncles herd and even demand the property of his uncle when he is dead. The custom of Lobola which regarded as the bride price, a significant portion of it given to the maternal uncle of the bride. In the Ditsoa custom, some cattle was given to the maternal uncle from the cattle received during the marriage ceremony. In a peculiar custom of destroying the hut of a dead relative, his sisters son plays a great role with the belief that the spirit wont cause harm to the sisters son. There is the belief that the paternal spirit often causes illness to the members for their wrong activity. If he falls sick it is the uncles duty to conduct prayer and sacrifices on his behalf wishing his recovery. This special relationship of the mothers brother is marked by familiarity, closeness, love and a great care. It is not peculiar only to the Ba Thonga tribe, rather seen among a number of tribes in Africa. While doing literature review, he found the view of Mr. H.A Junod in his book entitled The life of a South African tribe to be problematic and illogical, who explained it to be the result of matrilineal influence and if the practice existed in the patrilineal group, he viewed that it is because the group sometimes in the past might have gone through the patrilineal kinship system. Not adding anything to its criticism against this view, in his paper, Brown tried to give a plausible explanation for this special relationship of the mothers brother and the sisters son by formulating a number of suitable hypotheses and making a comparative analysis with the relation between the fathers sister and the brothers son as he finds the existence of this peculiarly formal relationship between the two which cannot be ruled out while explaining the mothers brother and sisters son relationship. At first he clears the confusion of matrilineal explanation of Junod by stating that no society is completely divided into matrilineal or patrilineal as the kinship system is concerned. It might be

possible that one society is more inclined either to the patrilineal or matrilineal system thus following a cognatic approach to their kinship system. In primitive society there is a strong tendency to merge an individual into the group. The result of which there arises a necessity to extend the relationship to all members of an individuals side which was given to that particular member. Thus his first hypothesis is the Extension of sentiment. It explains that while tracing the relationship to any considerable distance, the fundamental principle of classification used in the primitive society is the equivalence of the siblings (brothers and sisters) and side. For Ex- if a man A stands in a particular relationship to the person B then he must be in the same kind of relation to the brother of B and similarly with the woman and her sister. Since it is from the mother that one person expects love, care and indulgence, he looks for the same sort of treatment from the maternal kin. On the other hand, it is to his paternal kin that he owes obedience and respect as he tends all these to his father. This pattern which arises in relation to the father and the mother are generalised and extended to the kindred on the one side and the other. On the basis of this pattern the brother of the father gets the same treatment as the father and the mothers sister as the mother. As this hypothesis fails sort to explain the discussed relationship of mothers brother, he formulates another hypothesis that is Same sex familiarity. This hypothesis explains that in the primitive society, behaviour differs according to the sex of a person. Given the person to be contacted is an unknown person, to a male member, there is always an extent of familiarity in relationship with a male member and there arises hesitance, shyness to a female member. Then he says that the relationship of the fathers sister and the mothers brother is an extended form of relationship of the relationship of Father and Mother. The relation of father, he says, implies respect and fear. He acts as an instructor and the one who generally scolds and punishes. So also do the fathers siblings and his side. On the other hand, mothers relation implies love, care and indulgence. This relation is very deep and tender, here love exceeds respect. So also is expected from the mothers side and her siblings. Now he explains that the relation of mothers brother is attached with love, care and indulgence from the mother, according to the first hypothesis of Extension of sentiment and he will be much familiar to the sisters son according to the other hypothesis of Same sex familiarity. Where on the other hand, the relation of the fathers sister is attached with fear and respect from the father and she also cannot become familiar to the brothers son due to the inverse effect of second hypothesis. Now the relation of mothers brother becomes much familiar, lovable, caring and indulging like the mother on the other hand the relation of the fathers sister becomes not so familiar, fear-raising, and respectful like the father. Brown brands these new relations as male mother and female father respectively. While proving these hypotheses and the result, he shows that the motherly behaviour of the mothers brother towards the sisters son and the fathers sister towards the brothers son is reflected in the very nomenclature of those relationships. He states that in South Africa, the common term to the relation of mothers brother is Malume which consists the the word ma meaning mother and lume meaning male. Similarly the common word for the relation of fathers sister is Udade bo bao which literally means the sister of father. Similarity of this type in the nomenclature is found in the most African tribal language like Zulu, Bantu, Ba Thonga and Xosa. This is how he provides a plausible explanation to that special nice relationship of the mothers brother and the sisters son.