Lineage Patterns

Ivory Coast Table of Contents

In Côte d'Ivoire, as in most of Africa, family relationships reflect beliefs about kinship that differ markedly from those of most Europeans and Americans. Kinship groups are relatively resistant to change through modernization, and as a result, one traditional descent group--the lineage--is so common that it can be discussed in general terms, without reference to specific Ivoirian cultures. The organization of the lineage is based on the belief that relationships traced through males and those traced through females are substantially different. Kinship terms and behavioral expectations differ accordingly.

The patrilineage, or group formed by tracing descent through male forebears to a male ancestor, is an important social unit throughout most of Africa. In eastern Côte d'Ivoire, however, many societies are organized into matrilineages, tracing descent through female forebears to one female ancestor. Each type of lineage includes both men and women, sometimes five or six generations removed from the founding ancestor, but the linking relatives are of one gender. In this way, second and third cousins within the same lineage may be considered closer relatives than first cousins in two different lineages, i.e., children of a brother and sister.

Lineages generally share corporate responsibility for socializing the young and maintaining conformity to social norms. Lineage elders often meet to settle disputes, to prescribe or enforce rules of etiquette and marriage, to discuss lineage concerns, and in general to preserve the group itself. They also serve as pressure groups on individuals, bringing nonconformists in line with socially accepted standards. Lineage rules usually require individuals to marry outside their lineage, and the resulting alliances are important sources of social cohesion. Although these practices were widely condemned by some of the teachings of early European missionaries and by colonial officials, they have been preserved nonetheless because they provide a coherent set of expectations by which people can live in harmony with the universe as it is perceived in that society.

Lineage ties serve to emphasize the unity of living and deceased relatives by descent through ritual observances and ceremonies. At times, however, lineages break apart in response to the pressure of interpersonal rivalries or when they become too large to maintain close ties. When such fission occurs, related lineages usually maintain some ties and celebrate occasions together. If they consider their alliance important enough to be preserved for several generations, the resulting confederation of lineages, usually termed a clan, may include thousands of individuals and become a powerful interest group in the regional or national context. Aside from their political potential, many aspects of lineage behavior and expectation are still important in Côte d'Ivoire, giving people their sense of history and social responsibility and serving to define the role of the individual in society.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress