Mbundu Social Structure

Mbundu Social Structure

Among the Mbundu, the matrilineage survived centuries of change in other institutions. Membership in and loyalty to it was of great importance. The lineage supported the individual in material and nonmaterial ways because most land was lineage domain, access to it required lineage membership, and communication between the living and their ancestors, crucial to traditional religion, was mediated through the lineage.

The Mbundu lineage differed from Bakongo and Ovimbundu groups in its underlying theory; it consisted not of individuals but of statuses or titles filled by living persons. In this system, a Mbundu could move from one status to another, thus acquiring a different set of relationships. How, in fact, this theoretical system affected interpersonal relationships between biological kin has not been described, however.

The Mbundu matrilineage was in some respects a dispersed unit, but a core group maintained a lineage village to which its members returned, either at a particular stage in their lives or for brief visits. Women went to the villages of their husbands, and their children were raised there. The girls, as their mothers had done, then joined their own husbands. The young men, however, went to the lineage village to join their mothers' brothers. The mothers' brothers and their sisters' sons formed the more or less permanent core of the lineage community, visited from time to time by the women of the lineage who, as they grew old, might come to live the rest of their lives there. After a time, when the senior mother's brother who headed the matrilineage died, some of the younger men would go off to found their own villages. A man then became the senior male in a new lineage, the members of which would be his sisters and his sisters' sons. One of these younger men might, however, remain in the old village and succeed the senior mother's brother in the latter's status and take on his role completely, thus perpetuating the older lineage. According to one account, the functioning lineage probably has a genealogical depth of three to four generations: a man, his sister's adult sons, and the latter's younger but married sister's sons. How this unit encompasses the range of statuses characteristic of the matrilineage in Mbundu theory is not altogether clear.


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