Kinship in Bali

 

(Clifford Geertz, Hildred Geertz)

 

(Chapt. 1)

 

 

Culture, Kinship, and the Search for the Dadia

 

 

Balinese kinship customs and practices are, on puzzlingly irregular and contradictory. The ethnologist can find very little agreement among his informants on many basic substantive issues, such as what forms of groupings of kinsmen the Balinese recognize, or what the essential structural characteristics of these groups are thought to be. Two fully cooperative and intelligent Balinese from the same village may give completely variant accounts on matters that the ethnologist believes to be crucial to his formulations. They may give strikingly different descriptions of the organization of the same concrete group of kinsmen, or they may even use completely different terms to identify that group. On a more abstract level, the same two informants may give entirely different lists of the various kinds of kinship groupings that they know about.

 

If the ethnologist attempts to solve his perplexities by ignoring analyses by Balinese of their own kinship relations and by painstakingly collecting information on actual groupings of kinsmen through genealogies and censuses, he finds new and equally puzzling inconsistencies. For instance, he might find that some persons belong to large, organized kingroups which have corporately owned common property, a social unity and identity recognized by the rest of the village, and an authority structure of leaders and members, while others within the same village have no such kingroups and are organized, instead, only into loosely related networks of elementary families.

 

He would find, further, on studying the corporately organized kingroups, that the members of only some of them have any detailed knowledge of their genealogical relationship, while the members of others have no interest in their forebears earlier than their own grandparents, nor in tracing their precise relationships to living persons whom they recognize as kin; that the memberships of some corporate groups are sharply localized while others have members scattered over a wide area in many different villages. These variations cannot be explained by regional differences, for Bali is a small island, and all Balinese share the same general beliefs, the same overall world-view, the same broad ideas on how their society is, and should be arranged.

 

It is clear, then, that the first theoretical problem presented by the study of Balinese kinship is that of discerning some underlying principles which can account for this highly variable set of kinship practices. Allied to the task of finding unity in diversity if there be any is that of explaining the occurrence of each variant form of kinship organization. While these are, of course, essential issues in any study of social organization, they appear to be more pressing and difficult in the case of Bali.

 

Our main strategy for uncovering such an underlying order in Balinese kinship practices has been to make an analytic separation between the cultural dimension of this order and the social structural. By "the cultural dimension" we refer to those Balinese ideas, beliefs, and values which are relevant to their behavior as kinsmen ideas, beliefs, and values that are abstracted from and distinguished from the actual regularities in that behavior, from the concrete interpersonal relationships which obtain "on the ground" among particular kinsmen. The relevant ideas, beliefs, and values are those having to do with, for instance, the perceived nature of the connection between parent and child, or between deceased ancestors and living persons, or between individuals who share (or think they share) a common parentage or common ancestry. Taken together, these assumptions form a culturally unique conceptual framework that the Balinese use to represent, to understand, and to organize their social relationships with their kinsmen.

 

A brief discussion of Evans-Pritchard's classic analysis of Nuer kinship may help to clarify this distinction.1 Evans-Pritchard demonstrates in considerable detail that Nuer ideas of descent provide what he calls the "idiom" of the political structure. The fundamental cultural premises underlying the Nuer kinship "idiom" are the agnatic principle of exogamous lines of descent through males, together with the principle of segmentation, by which he means the Nuer assumption that all descent groups which are related through a set of full brothers are therefore socially equidistant and that all such groups can also be seen as one larger group united through the single father of the fraternal set.

 

Evans-Pritchard then goes on to show how this idiom is used by the Nuer to perceive or describe the relationship not only between consanguincal kin but also between whole villages, and even between larger territorial areas. That is to say, each village is thought of as a lineage segment which has kinship-like relations of "cousin-ship" with neighboring villages. And each such set of villages, while in segmentary opposition to its "cousins" that is, to those village-sets which are seen to be in an identical structural "lineage" position ally themselves as part of a larger maximal "lineage," against more distant territories. And. finally, the whole of a Nuer tribe is thought to be composed of the descendants of one ancestor, to be therefore a single comprehensive lineage. In actual fact, as Evans-Pritchard shows, such agnatic relationships do not obtain among all the members of any one village, nor between whole villages and territories, nor are the Nuer under any illusion that they do. The whole schema is a way of looking at and guiding a partly ordered complex of ongoing social interactions.

 

Evans-Pritchard's use of the term "idiom" is close to our more explicit concept of the "cultural dimensions of kinship." In Bali, however, in contrast to Nuer-land, the case is not one of an entire society being organized in terms of a kinship idiom, but rather of conceptions of kinship being integrated with even more fundamental conceptions, stemming especially from the realms of religion, residence, and social rank, into a comprehensive cultural pattern. The Balinese "idiom" of kinship is not an autonomous system at all, but an integral part of a more inclusive "idiom" or "culture pattern," in which it plays a critical but far from dominant role.

 

The Balinese pattern a structure, essentially, of significant symbols is very general and flexible in form. Because its elements are global and imprecise, it is easily interpreted in different ways by per sons with different points of view. It does not describe the whole of Balinese kinship practices and institutions or even account for most of them, and therefore it permits considerable variation in its name. It should be clearly understood, therefore, that we do not employ the concept of culture pattern here as a causal force but rather use it interpretatively as a means for bringing together as aspects of a single structure of meaning what are apparently diverse social ex pressions. It makes it possible for us to say. as the Balinese do, that the different kinds of kingroups that we found are all variations on a set of common ideational themes, themes which permeate and inform the whole of Balinese life.

 

We will, in chapter 5, the conclusion of the book, attempt to formulate these themes in exact and concrete terms and to develop the implications, some of them radical, such an approach to the study of "kinship" has for our view of the subject generally. Seeing "kinship systems" (a notion we shall, in fact, attempt to bring into some disrepute) against the background of the overall structure of symbols in terms of which a people organize their lives, leads, we shall try to show, to an analysis at once less formalistic and more faithful to the particular shape and pressure of those lives. Kinship, as Fred Eggan remarked many years ago now, has work to do; turning away from views of it as a complex of sentiments, a set of rules, or a table of categories to a consideration of it as a part of a way of being in the world, an expression of a view of what life is like and how persons ought, as a result, to treat with one another while passing through it, can give us a clearer idea of just what that work is and just how. But all this the Balinese conception of kinship, its elements, and its social consequences, as well as its fit with other Balinese views of religion, politics, status, or whatever cannot be discussed separately and explicitly until the concrete description of the operation of kin ship symbolization in Balincse life is itself complete, and it is to that that we now proceed.

 

 

The search of the dadia

 

What follows, then, is a study of Balinese social structure centering around the use of the symbols of kinship in organizing domestic and public life. Within this framework, we will be mainly concerned with three things: the formation of social groups and networks and the manner in which, once formed, they operate; the relationships of power and influence, that is, with domination, dependence, compliance, and cooperation; and the ways in which persons and groups can and do act to defend and so far as possible enhance their general social position within Balinese public life.

 

Such an aim leads one, or anyway led us, with great rapidity to a focus on a particular, and peculiar, social institution called, in most pans of Bali, the dadia. In certain respects this study is one long attempt to understand this institution, to grasp the nature of the group or groups for which the word "dadia" and its analogues stand.

 

None of the established categories of kinship analysis in anthropology "lineage," "clan," "sib," "kindred," even the more recently popular "ramage" and "ambilateral descent group," seem properly to translate it, while at the same time none of them seem entirely off the marie, just ill-fining, awkward, not quite right. The dadia, a term we shall henceforth use untranslated, is or, anyway seems to be when first you look at it an agnatic, preferentially endogamous, highly corporate group of people who are convinced, with whatever reason, that they are all descendants of one common ancestor. But such a description hardly completes the term's characterization. Indeed it rather truncates it, for one of the most interesting, and from a theoretical point of view most challenging, features of the dadia as a "kingroup" is its contingency, the fact that it does not necessarily form wherever there is a large enough group of agnatically related kinsmen. There are many Balinese who have recognized patri-kins men who never organize themselves, never incorporate into a dadia, never pull themselves together as any sort of kingroup at all. It was, as already mentioned, this "sometimes/sometimes not" quality of the dadia which created much of our puzzlement during the initial phases of field work and which was, alas, but a harbinger of deeper puzzlements to come.

 

We found, or more exactly had forced upon us against our preconceptions, that the reasons for the emergence or nonemergence of a particular dadia from among a particular pool of kinsmen were multiple and only loosely interrelated, and had precious little to do with any autonomous operation of kinship principles. First, there is the nature of the internal structure of the dadia as a corporate body, a structure which enables it to respond with extraordinary sensitivity to pressures of circumstance. Under various conditions, it can form, expand, contract, even dissolve, and does so with relative ease and flexibility. It is, in a word, adaptable. Second, it is multiplex. The conception that the Balinese have of the nature of kinship and of groups formed out of kinship connections classifies together as one entity several quite disparate to foreign eyes organizational forms. Indeed, dadias are such that about as strong an argument could be made that they are relieious groups, or microcastes, or local factions, as that they are kin groups, and so the forces propelling their creation and maintaining their force have as much to do with notions about the nature of ultimate reality, the foundations of social rank, or the conflicts in interest among co-residents as about who has issued procreatively from whom. And, third, the dadia is set within, and in a sense in opposition to what one can only call the general community, against which it is constantly seeking to assert itself and by which it is constantly being restrained, even undermined.

 

Taking this last point first, which is preliminary to grasping the others, by "community" we mean here at least two different things. There is the community that the commoners look toward, their villages or hamlets. And there is the community that the gentry, descendants of the nobles, kings, and priests of pre-twentieth-century Bali, look toward, the broad regional community of the "state," or as we shall call them, the principalities or kingdoms.2

 

By "gentry" we mean those persons whom the Balinese refer to as triwangsa, the "three (upper) castes." As we will try to show, the Hindu concept of "caste" is inappropriate and confusing when applied to Balinese status distinctions, but the Balinese themselves, less interested in precision, nonetheless use it to explain their own system to themselves. In these Hindu terms, the triwangsa represent all those of Wesia, Satria, and Brahmana status, as set against the Sudra, the commoners, who are all the rest of the Balinese.

 

Bali's gentry make up no more than ten percent of the population, but they are scattered, if unevenly, throughout most of the island's villages. In the nineteenth century, some of the gentry played important political roles, for Bali was ruled, or anyway presided over, by a group of competing kings and lords, each sovereign over a varying proportion of the commoners. Each king had a court of noble relatives and followers, who lived either near him or were placed in more distant villages in charge of outposts of the realm. In addition to these gentry who were active politically, there were many more who were not, who traced their aristocratic origins back to even earlier kings and lords. And finally, the Brahmana priests and their kinsmen, who are considered to be even higher, in spiritual terms, than the ruling groups, are also included in the gentry category.

 

To what extent the gentry and the commoner are true "status groups" in the Weberian sense that is, to what extent they have separate spheres of interaction and distinct subcultures is a much debated matter. Some writers have implied that the gentry are quite distinct, others lend to ignore the difference.3 We take, and not merely out of caution, an intermediate position. The higher gentry of the capital towns certainly move, and have long moved, in circles quite aloof from commoners, although since they continually bring in commoner wives, their mothers and maternal relatives are, more often than not, commoners.

 


 

Culture, kinship, and the search for the dadia, chapt. 1 (in part) in: Geertz, Clifford/ Geertz, Hildred: Kinship in Bali. Chicago/Il./USA 1975: University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-6.

 


 

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