Choice and Constraint in a Swahili Community: Property, Hierarchy and Cognatic Descent on the East African Coast, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Choice and Constraint in a Swahili Community

Property, Hierarchy and Cognatic Descent on the East African Coast, 1st Edition

By Ann Patricia Caplan


176 pages

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Hardback: 9781138493278
pub: 2018-08-22
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781351028462
pub: 2018-08-16
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Originally published in 1975, this book examines property and power relations in a Swahili village on Mafia Island off Tanzania. It focuses on the cognatic descent groups which are important in many areas of village life such as land-holding, marriage, residence, Islamic activities and spirit possession cults. Some anthropologists have contended that groups with multiple membership cannot be viable social units, but this book shows that such a system can actually work. In showing how the cognatic descent groups actually operate, both an ideology of descent group membership and also numerical material about patterns of choice are presented. This involves the construction of both mechanical and statistical models, as well as a decision model to discuss the constraints governing choices.

Table of Contents

1. Ecology, Population and Economy

2. Descent Groups and Personal Networks

3. Residence Patterns

4. Land Tenure

5. The Socio-Religious Hierarchy: Islam

6. The Socio-Religious Hierarchy: Spirit Possession

7. The Hierarchy and Village Politics

8. Conclusion

About the Author

Ann Patricia Caplan In 1977, joined Goldsmiths College, University of London as a lecturer in anthropology; she was later promoted to senior lecturer.[1] Goldsmiths did not have an Anthropology Department until the 1980s.[2] In 1989, she was appointed Professor of Social Anthropology. From 1998 to 2000, she was also Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. Caplan retired in 2003 and was appointed Emeritus Professor.

About the Series

African Ethnographic Studies of the 20th Century

Routledge is delighted to be re-issuing 79 volumes originally published between 1931 and 1988 in association with the International African Institute. Unavailable outside a few key libraries, many of these republished volumes were at the cutting edge of a fieldwork and ethnographic revolution in African anthropology in the decades after 1930. It involved the production of a wide body of fieldwork-based ethnographic documentation about the cultures of the different societies in Africa. Secondly, it saw a methodological turn to intense, localized investigations of cultural tradition and social change in a rapidly modernizing context. These investigations involved a more sustained and systematic, more professional and ‘scientific’ form of immersion and participant observation, than anything that had gone before. The sites of engagement were urban as well as rural; the pioneering researchers were female as well as male. No longer was the journal essay the repository of the latest research in the discipline, but rich ethnographies running into hundreds of pages.

The volumes are supplemented with maps, which will be available to view on or available as pdfs from the publishers.


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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Regional Studies