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Book Reviews The Pastoral Son and the Spirit ofPatriarchy: Religion, Society and Person Among East African Stock Keepers Michael E. Meeker Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. Meeker returns to Herskovits's old haunts in the southern Sudan to discover a new sort of cattle "complex," one that links psychological aspects of father-son rivalries to the demands and constraints of stockkeeping . He observes that pastoral societies contain within them an apparent contradiction between the community and the individual, which derives from the particular nature of stock as both subsistence resource and store of value. Herding and management enjoins a high degree of cooperation and reciprocity, but the animals themselves, as Meeker puts it, act as "vehicles" for the articulation of the autonomy and independence of their individual owners. The tension between the two, centering on notions of authority and "property," leads to generational antagonisms between elders (fathers) who own and control, and juniors (sons) who are controlled. The basic thesis of conflict between reciprocal obligation within the community and individual rights of possession located in the household has been widely expressed in different ethnographic contexts. Meeker, however, takes the argument further by examining how the contradiction is expressed, if not resolved, inĀ® Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 1, Nos. 2-3 (New Series) 1994, pp. 223-225 223 224 Book Reviews the fields of religion, social representation, and the development of (male) selfhood. This is an ambitious approach to the cross-cultural project first essayed in the original "cattle complex;" and much of the ground is contentious . There are now large and prickly clumps of modernist and post-modernist scholarship along the road to Self and Other which Meeker, perhaps wisely, avoids as he follows in the ethnographic tracks of Evans-Pritchard, Deng, and Lienhardt down the Nile. This is very much an orthodox work of comparative cultural anthropology. Pastoral Son is based entirely on a reexamination of past ethnographies and Meeker's argument is not always well served by the choices of example he has had to make. It is surprising, for example, that, after a very effective re-analysis of Nuer segmentation as a representation of ambivalence and antagonism between Self and Others, he neglects the rich body of data on age organization. The Maa-speaking peoples, who barely get a mention here despite the richness of Spencer's ethnographies of the Maasai and Samburu, offer a wide range of variation in the way in which family and generational conflict is managed through age institutions. Maasai fathers/elders are patriarchs par excellence; but the interplay between the roles each man plays as both the family autocrat and a responsible member of an age-set collectively exercising authority suggests that the distinction between Meeker's "Nuer" and "Dinka" types of authority and individualism may be more complex than it at first appears. Spencer's suggestion that the opposition between individual and collectivity is both expressed and managed by embodying the two types at different stages of the process of social maturation is highly relevant here. Again, it is difficult to focus on cattle raiding as a key variable (and are Nuer demonstrably more aggressive than Dinka?) while ignoring marriage, the prime reason why juniors must acquire stock. Nor is it clear why Nuer raiding compromises patriarchal authority while in Dinka it (apparently) does not. Ethnographies are "texts" with their own subjectivities. For someone publishing under the auspices of Clifford and Marcus, Meeker seems oddly unconcerned with issues of "reading" or interpretation. EvansPritchard and Lienhardt are obviously present in their respective representations of Nuer and Dinka, and their own concerns and perspectives inform the material with which Meeker is working. Ethnographies are Book Reviews 225 also specifically situated in time; but the Pastoral Son often seems to live in the timeless world of the "ethnographic past/present" where change cannot wither and custom survives unstaled. This unfortunate impression is reinforced by statements about the "archaic mode of stockkeeping " or the lumping together of Somali camel-herders and ancient "Indo-Europeans" as representatives of "Old World pastoral traditions." Nonetheless, criticisms of the choice of material should not detract from the importance of Meeker's exploration of selfhood and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 223-225
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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