The dialectics of change among the Southern Iteso
The Dialectics of Change Among the Southern Iteso The Southern Iteso are an Eastern Nilotic speaking ethnic group who reside across the border between Kenya and Uganda in Bubedi District of Uganda and Busia District of Kenya. They represent the last large-scale tribal movement into Western Kenya in the precolonial period. Their present population is probaly over l30,000. The research for this dissertation was conducted entirely on the Kenya side of the border, where 80,000 Iteso live. During the immediate precolonial period the Iteso possessed a political system of the Karimojong type. They were organized into territorial sections under the authority of an office holder called the lok'etem. Each section was composed of a number of sub-sections that were organized around an agnatic core. There was a system of age groups which men entered after retirement from active life. These age groups interceded with the high God for other Iteso. The first and most important political consequence of colonial domination was the loss of the precolonial political organization. The Iteso were pacified by African agents of the British authorities. At first they were administered externally. Any noticeable political activity on the part of the Iteso was suppressed forcibly. The result of this pattern of pacification was a radical decrease in the scale of political structures. The section system was not adapted to tne new situation and the office of lok'etem disappeared. Instead there emerged a type of local group that I call a neighborhood. At first these -neighborhoods were oriented to the focal egos that established them. These men provided capital for their followers to establish independent households and organized their neighbors for deic112. during the particularly unsettled period that preceded the emergence of a stable colonial administration. The establishment of administrative structures coincided with the decline in importance of these neighborhood heads. They were replaced by brokers whose influence derived from their access to officials in the administrative hierarchy. With the advent of a stable administration the sources of political power shifted to the outside of indigenous structures. The neighborhood still remains the primary locus of faceto- face interaction and cooperation. Instead of being oriented to a focal ego it has evolved into a loosely-bounded organization of persons interacting in terms of an egalitarian ideology. Since it is not corporate in ar.yway, and informants cannot agree on the membership of anyone neighborhood, it is best described in terms of values and ideals concerning neighborly relations. The most significant changes in recent Iteso social history have occurred in the territorial field of social relations. Kinship, which is not connected to territory, has remained relatively constant. The kinship system consists of a series of patrilineal descent groups which function largely as kinship categcries and not as corporate kin groups. Maternal and affinal kinsmen are very important in the everyday life of Iteso men, particularly due to the pervasive conflict among closely related agnates. The kinship terminology circumscribes behavior that is expected to obtain among kinsmen. The most important terminological principle is the separation of adjacent generations. Lineali ty is relatively unimportant in the social categories of the terminology. An essentially amorphous form of social organization such as the neighborhood can be sustained in a society of sedentary agriculturalists only by a high rate of household mobility. The high rate of Iteso mobility was maintained by an abundance of land and pervasive conflicts among the sons of one father over the family estate. Fathers are required to provide sons with cattle for a first marriage and to help them establish a household. However, the Iteso have the house property compiex, and the cattle of one matrisegment are not alienable by another. This leads to severe conflicts both among and within matrisegments over disputed claims to the family estate. The intensity of conflict and the resulting loss of capital by some of the potential heirs leads some households to seek capital and safety elsewhere. The pattern of leader-follower relations also serves to reinforce this high rate of mobility since the capital needed for marriage and household formation was exchanged by aspiring leaders for political allegiance. Political choices are articulated in terms of the ideology of kinship. Thus, it can be seen that kinship serves as a link between processes occurring in the political-jural and processes .occurring in the domestic or familial domain. The dissertation has attempted to demonstrate that an adequate analysis of social change must distinguish between two aspects of change. These are the factors that influence the rate of change and the factors that influence the direction of change. For the Iteso,the first set of factors were external to the traditional social organization and the second set of factors were internal to the social system.