Age Set Organization

A unilineal descent rule may be a way to get a transfam-ily kin group to come to one's aid, but it is not the only possible way to do so. Some societies use age-sets for integrative purposes. An age-set is a group of persons of similar age and sex who move through some or all of life's stages together (C. R. Ember & Ember, 2002, p. 184). Usually the transition occurs at a ceremony or ritual. For example, every 10 years or so, males might be initiated into one status and then move on to others every time a new set becomes initiated or inducted (e.g., "initiates," "warriors," "married men," "mature men," "elders"). Age-sets are usually nonvoluntary associations, and those initiated and "graduating" together form close bonds with each other. Age-sets have a limited distribution and are mostly found in Africa, the North American Plains, and some Ge-speaking groups in the Brazilian Amazon (Ritter, 1980). Ritter (1980) tested a number of theories about the conditions that might favor age-set systems. Contrary to the widely held idea that age-set systems function to integrate societies whose kinship or political groups are not equal to the task, Ritter found that age-set societies are not less likely to have unilineal descent groups or other ways to integrate the actions of different local groups. But consistent with other previous theory, age-set societies have significantly more warfare than other societies. Ritter suggests that age-sets will develop when warfare is very frequent and where the size and composition of the local group fluctuates throughout the year. Usually the fluctuation is required by the subsistence regime (e.g., pastoralists often have to move their herds away from settlements to find grazing). Cross-cultural tests support this hypothesis. Age-set societies may have unilineal descent groups and political integration of different local groups, but the age-sets would provide reliable allies during the periods of mobility and separation. Wherever you may be, you could find age-mates. But you may not be close to members of your descent group or political unit. Presumably, fully sedentary societies or fully nomadic societies would not need age-set organization for defense or offense because their descent groups would not ever disperse during the year.

Many of the societies with male age-sets also have female age-sets. For example, the Shavante have female age-sets into which girls are inducted when males are inducted into their age-sets (Maybury-Lewis, 1967). However, the age-sets for females do not seem to be as important as those for males.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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