Conflict and conciliation among the Mbeere of Kenya
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Among the Mbeere, a Bantu people'of Central Kenya, two types of conflict provide the motive force for the performance of initiation ceremonial and oath taking ritual. Structural conflict occurs when contradictory social principles lead people into disagreement, and the initiation ceremonial plays upon this conflict. Specifically, men are faced with greater bride wealth obligations than their resources at any given time permit them to meet. It is im- .possible to satisfy at once the just demands of affiances and the equally compelling demands of patrilineal kinsmen. At the time of 'the initiation of a youth, the father of the initiate must confront his wife's patrilineal kinsmen who ,make claims they assert have been avoided they demand respect and hospitality, both symbolizing their just claims for providing a wife and indirectly her children for another patrilineal descent group. The failure of an agnatic group to meet their moral responsibility to affines because that group must also satisfy other pressing obligations creates structural conflict which stimulates much of the dramatic agony at initiation. Litigious conflict expressed in oath-taking rituals is part of legal procedure and differs from structural conflict. Litigious conflict is not the result of the incompatibility of social principles or values. Instead, litigious conflict stems from legal disputes over such matters as theft, land ownership, or violations of the norms of interpersonal relationships. Such conflict is settled through traditional legal procedure supervised by local councils of elders or by the court. The ritual oath requires the consumption of goat's blood ritually prepared to insure truthful testimony, punish perjurers, and alleviate antagonism between litigants. Traditionally, the oath's power lies in its threat of supernatural .' sanctions in the form of illness or death for those who swear falsely or fail to follow the injunctions of the oath. Recently, the impact of education and Christianity has eroded faith in the efficacy of the oath. In the recent spate of disputes over land ownership, the oath has failed to settle litigious conflict but has latetly functioned to affirm competing alliances. The focal themes of the ritual oath and the ceremonial initiation are played out for different reasons. Oaths are sworn because of the inevitable failure of human behavior always to conform to ideal rules. Initiation, on the other hand, reflects the inability of human action to satisfy differing and situation ally incompatible moral rules. In the first instance, a breach of a single rule or value brings about litigation and the formalized recreation of the original conflict, successful litigation and the reaffirmation of the abrogated rules are sought through the ritual oath. In the second instance, personal aspiration or morally sanctioned obligations to agemates may interfere with moral obligations to affines; the initiation ceremonial provides one means for upholding affinal relationships paradoxically by emphasizing the very conflicts which both threaten and define those relationships. In agreeing to 'disagree, that is to mime the conflict, affines formally emphasize the ties binding them together incular life.