Social Structure in Urban Areas

Social Structure in Urban Areas

Whatever the kind and degree of change in the workings of lineage and community in rural Angola, research in the musseques of Luanda showed that the lineage system had little significance there. Musseques are settlements in and around Luanda (and some of the other big towns) in which many of the urban poor live. Residents of the settlements in Luanda were predominantly of Mbundu origin. In the 1980s, the settlements became the refuge of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons.

Some of the inhabitants of the musseques worked regularly in manual jobs, but others were employed only intermittently, and still others would go jobless for long periods. The variation in the material circumstances of males in particular affected the composition of the households. Ideally, and often in fact, the household consisted of a man and a woman, living in a union legally or otherwise sanctioned, and their children. Occasionally, another kinsman or kinswoman was part of the unit. In the 1980s, with the influx of the rural displaced, additional kin or acquaintances were probably also becoming part of many of the family units.

The man was expected to assume the primary responsibility for supporting the household and to provide, if possible, for the education of the children, although others sometimes contributed. Given the economic circumstances of most of these men, the burden sometimes became overwhelming, and some men reacted by leaving the household. This reaction accounted, with some exceptions, for the presence of female heads of households.

In the 1980s, an important effect of extended kinship ties was the expectation of migrants from rural areas that they could turn first to their kin already in place for at least temporary housing and other aid. The tendency was to look to heads of households who were of the same matrilineage, but that practice was not universal. Moreover, it did not signify that the matrilineage had been transplanted to the musseques. The relationship between the head of the household and the newly arrived migrant was that between two individuals. The urban situation did not provide the conditions for the functioning of the matrilineage as a social, political, and economic unit.

Given the combination of the nuclear family household, the absence of matrilineages, and the relative ethnic homogeneity of the musseques of Luanda, the organization of permanent or temporary groups engaged in social or political activity and the formation of interpersonal relationships were likely to be based directly on economic concerns or on other common interests arising out of the urban situation. Elsewhere, such concerns and interests were often mediated by or couched in terms of considerations of ethnicity or kinship.

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