Volume 75 1966 > Volume 75, No. 3 > Toward a configurational approach to society and culture in New Guinea, by Jan Pouwer, p 267 - 286
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TOWARD A CONFIGURATIONAL APPROACH TO SOCIETY AND CULTURE IN NEW GUINEA 1

Instead of typologies we need a series of relevant elements, like descent, classification, exchange, residence, filiation, marriage, and so on; these need to be rigorously defined as analytic categories and then combined and recombined into various combinations and permutations, in different sizes, shapes, constellations.” —D. M. Schneider 2

1. Stating the Problem

It has been recognised again and again 3 that many New Guinea (N.G.) societies show a striking degree of variability and flexibility which offers a challenge to the scientist who wants to formulate their structural framework. The more so because labels and classifications successfully used elsewhere as (no more than) tools to find the system, do not apply to N.G. societies without great difficulties.

For present purposes, I see no point in adding to the documentation of variability, but I shall try to indicate concepts and methods which aim at exploring and explaining systems.

Postulating the axiom that any society shows at least a certain degree of consistency, a characterization of N.G. social systems in terms of structural looseness or flexibility without indicating the structural framework within which the variations occur, should be rejected. Variations are not unbounded. Gratifying as it may be to account with Paula - 268 Brown (1962) for deviations from a structural principle, e.g. the agnatic principle, by referring to special characteristics of the social practice (e.g. the pervasiveness of affinal and cognatic ties), one cannot identify a rule by its deviations. Her highly commendable analysis clarifies a system's operation, rather than its structure.

No more is it sufficient to indicate peculiarities of the N.G. systems by contrasting models of African structures with the social realities of N.G. societies. 4 Although Barnes warns against this methodological error in the beginning of his illuminating article, I am not quite sure that he avoids this error himself. He contrasts elements of the structural model of African segmentary societies, such as the Tallensi, Nuer, or Tiv with elements of N.G. Highland social realities as interpreted by him:

bounded affiliation versus unbounded affiliation
group solidarity versus individual enterprise and individual initiative
group solidarity versus network cohesion
relative order and regularity of social life (Tiv) versus relative disorder and irregularity of social life (due to the high value placed on killing).

Setting aside the dubious meaning of the concepts of solidarity and cohesion, it seems to me that unbounded affiliation and relative disorder cannot be parts of a structural model, but may be incorporated in an operational model. Unbounded affiliation and relative disorder are just a denial of structure, which implies by definition, boundaries and relative order. Modes of affiliation as well as of individual action always operate within a structural framework.

Moreover, structure is more than and even different from network. It is primarily arrangement. Arrangement implies a network of interdependent elements, but we should not invert this proposition. It is emphatically not my intention to minimize the important role of individual choice and action and of permitted alternatives as determinants of socio-cultural variability and change, especially in N.G. societies. However, individual choice should be dealt with on the level of operation, or organization, 5 not on the level of structure. The effects of individual choice may bring about changes on the organizational, operational level of a system. In its turn organizational change may induce structural change, a gradual shifting of emphasis comparable with the effects of conjunctural development on economic structure. An economic system may evidently shift from relatively free to relatively controlled competition. A lineal development may crosscut a cyclical one.

Our discussion of structural development calls to mind a suggestion proposed by Vayda and Cook 6 that we should shift our emphasis in the study of social systems from “being” toward “becoming.” If they want to - 269 create by this proposal a dichotomy of process and structure, of dynamic versus stable, of diachronic versus synchronic, then this dichotomy must be rejected as equally false as the dichotomy, group-individual, mentioned by Barnes. Structure is a panchronic device, i.e. it shows both continuity and change. So it can be inferred from synchronic as well as diachronic studies. Nevertheless, I agree with the authors mentioned that the study of a system in its historical and spatial perspectives may reveal regularities which could pass unnoticed when focusing research on a single plane. We cannot sufficiently grasp the composition and the meaning of a film by analyzing some sequences if we do not know their relative key-value for the series of sequences which they are part of.

Socio-cultural systems “are” and “become” on the empirical level as organizations, i.e. as sets of specified people aiming at concrete tasks by specific means. However, the principles which govern the continuity and the arrangements of these sets, and which determine the relative weight of tasks and means, are images of the human mind. Therefore the set of arranging principles which we call the structure of a system, cannot be found in empirical reality by means of statistical generalizations. It can only be inferred from reality by means of normative models. Structure is a conceptual device and thereby a symbolic construction. The participants of a culture are constructing arrangements whereas the observers are re-constructing them. There is another crucial difference between the participants and the scientific observers of a culture. The observers are, or at least should be, aware of their intellectual activities. Many participants are not; hence the frequent occurrence of native rationalizations of cultural behaviour.

The anthropologist resembles the archaeologist; he constructs the arrangement of a system out of its observed interdependent elements. But he has a privilege not shared by the archaeologist; the constructor or (re)-enactor is at hand. So he (the reconstructor) can confront the performer within his own arrangement and thus be able to verify his reconstruction to some extent.

Arrangement, which is synonymous with structure, is dependent on faculties of the human mind, especially on intellectual ones, indicated in this paper by the term “structuring or arranging principles.” These principles of arrangement both act upon and are influenced in their configuration and relative stress by an ongoing process of conscious and unconscious cognition, categorizing and evaluating an Umwelt which is itself always on the move.

The intellectual faculties of the human mind transform and translate the Umwelt and its objective order into subjective human ones characterized by a series of arrangements and a fabric of meanings of their own. This conspicuously human and symbolic order in its sociocultural dimensions and in its interplay with the objective order of the Umwelt (including human beings), constitutes, to my mind, the object of study of our discipline.

The above considerations originating from a continuous struggle with stubborn N.G. field data and a confrontation of their theoretical implications with concepts and methods propagated by a daring Lévi-Strauss and a cautious, nuanced Firth, gradually convinced me of the potential value - 270 of the study of the N.G. societies for a rethinking of general anthropology. Such a rethinking would force us to reconsider familiar concepts such as (af)filiation, descent, lineage, segmented society, corporate unit, solidarity, bilateral kinship, kindred, deme, ramage, marriage and locality of marriage. It touches upon intracultural affinities and parallels between social, economic, political and religious subsystems. It challenges our views of cultural change, exemplified by the amazing divergence of interpretions of cargo cults which inspired the semi-outsider Jarvie to an extreme frontal attack on British functionalist anthropology. 7 It challenges our methods of intracultural analysis and intercultural comparison. It even challenges our interpretation of fundamental notions such as structure, process and organization which are used abundantly without sufficient thought being taken of their contents, however.

I hope that further research will consider N.G. data in this wider perspective.

2. The Segmentary Model

Let me elucidate the expounded views by means of a confrontation of N.G. data with the model of a segmentary society designed and elaborated upon by Radcliffe-Brown, Fortes and other social anthropologists. Such a confrontation not only reveals the peculiar properties of the data concerned but also unveils some tacit assumptions of the segmentary model.

I am in full agreement with Barnes who states, after summarizing eight interconnected characteristics of Highland societies (which to my mind are shared by coastal societies), “. . . hence it seems prudent to think twice before cataloguing the New Guinea Highlands as characterized by patrilineal descent.” 8 For all that, Meggitt feels it warranted to design a typology of Highland societies in terms of patrifiliation and patrilineal descent. 9 I suspect that Meggitt was motivated by the doctrine of the segmentary model rather than by the social reality of N.G. He shares a unilineal bias with some other adherents of the segmentary model. Fortes, 10 Freeman, 11 and even the “rebel” Leach, 12 who refers to Rivers, go to such extremes that they put unilineal descent on a par with descent. Fortes even identifies descent with descent group. Such amazing scientific behaviour requires an explanation. I agree with Schneider 13 that it derives from a commitment to an organic model of a kin-based segmentary society formed of homogeneous repetitive, discrete and exclusive segments. The segments in order to be repetitive and discrete and to be able to operate as corporate units, must be connected with a clear unambiguous principle of recruitment, which excludes the possibility of conflicting claims and loyalties. The only principle of recruitment which meets these demands - 271 is, according to this model, the principle of unilineal descent. This thesis is based on a dichotomy of unilineal versus bilateral, agnatic versus cognatic descent, which corresponds with the dichotomy discretenondiscrete, corporate-noncorporate. Radcliffe-Brown, the British originator of this doctrine, comments upon his thesis as follows: “. . . It is to be remembered that “descent” here refers to the social relationship of parents and children, not to the physical relationship. Kinship is thus based on descent . . . There are few, if any societies in which there is not some recognition of unilineal descent, either patrilineal (agnatic) or matrilineal or both . . . But what matters in the study of any society is the degree of emphasis on the unilineal principle and how it is used.14 “A continuing social structure requires the aggregation of individuals into distinct separated groups, each with its own solidarity, every person belonging to one group of any set . . . In kinship systems, cognatic kinship cannot provide this; it is only made possible by the use of the principle of unilineal descent.” 15 (my italics).

A recent echo of Radcliffe-Brown's point of view is to be found in Meggitt's monograph on the lineage system of the Mae Enga. 16 In his concluding chapter he sings the praise of the lineage principle. It is unambiguous, excludes overlapping and promotes solidarity. “But in cognatically organized society where land is short two men genealogically related in quite different ways to the deceased or to his local group might with equal propriety lay claim to the estate.” 17 He expresses the opinion that even in a cognatic society in the case of the occurrence of similar conflicts the principle of patrilineal descent and patrilocality is called on in order to settle the dispute. 18

According to the segmentary model the segments of a society can be related to each other by among other things complementary filiation (Fortes) and contrasting levels of segmentation. We should be very conscious of the fact that filiation and descent are essential parts of the segmentary model. Therefore, it is not amazing that scientists who adhere to this model throw filiation, unilineal descent, descent group, and corporate units into relief. I surmise that a commitment to this model is the main reason why Meggitt endeavours to classify a number of Highland societies in terms of the degree of elaboration of the agnatic, i.e., the patrilineal principle. He positively correlates this with the degree of pressure on horticultural land resources.

He also endeavours to arrange a number of Highland societies on a continuum between cumulative patrifiliation—a term used by Barnes 19) for the very purpose of distinguishing the N.G. kinship system from systems characterized by patrilineal descent—and agnatic descent.

Finally he tries to bridge the gap between the segmentary societies of Africa, coastal Melanesia and New Guinea by granting the latter an - 272 important intermediate position in terms of a taxonomy of patrilineal descent groups. Also in this respect he proves himself equal to his spiritual ancestor Radcliffe-Brown who suggested a taxonomy of African systems in terms of a continuum of unilineal descent; “Unilineal kinship receives only a minimum of recognition, if even that, in the Lozi; matrilineal kinship is emphasized in the Ashanti, and patrilineal kinship in the Zulu and the Nuer; both matrilineal and patrilineal kinship are made use of in the construction of the system of the Yakö. Between these four selected types there are many intermediate forms.” 20 Note how Radcliffe-Brown puts kinship on a par with filiation and descent. In his rather monolithic conceptual framework filiation, kinship and to some extent also affinal relations are functions of descent. In its turn descent is a function of social continuity. This conception of descent derives from law, more specifically from the jurist H. S. Maine. It is analogous to jural succession, i.e. the transmission of rights. Radcliffe-Brown even uses the term succession as a synonym of descent in a well-known article on patrilineal and matrilineal succession published in a Law Review (sic, 1935) and reprinted in his Structure and function in primitive society (1952). I do not share Radcliffe-Brown's views on descent nor his descento-centric approach to kinship. It seems more useful to consider descent as primarily a cognitive category rather than a jural notion.

A rethinking of the interrelated concepts of filiation, descent and kinship along this line could be summarized as follows: Kinship is my point of departure. In conjunction with Radcliffe-Brown and many other anthropologists, I take it for granted that kinship represents an exclusively human and major transformation of biological or pseudo-biological facts into social entities. Kinship could be defined as a body of social conventions which controls the very definition as well as the function, meaning and arrangement of a universe of biological or pseudo-biological relations obtaining between social persons. Social persons are physical persons endowed with social statuses and roles. Kinship thus defined presupposes a system. A kinship system is an arrangement of cognitive categories of kin and its correlate of statuses, roles and actual behaviour. Kinship does not necessarily function as a common denominator of societal arrangements. Various types of social systems could be said to co-exist and interact within a society. Each system can be analysed in its own right.

The arrangement of a kinship system is determined by various underlying structural criteria, which give rise to a host of cognitive categories applied to kin, including among many others, filiation and descent. Both cognitive categories could be seen as modalities of a lineal, i.e. vertical, arrangement of kin. Filiation and descent are those modalities of vertical arrangement which are characterized by a recognition of an actual or putative pedigree of varying length. Filiation corresponds with a short term pedigree, descent with a longer one. Descent in its turn comprises various categories which could be classified as modalities of unilineal and non-unilineal descent.

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The cognitive complement of descent is ascent. The latter also occurs as a social category (see page 281). The cognitive category of kinship called descent has a wide range of social applications. It can be a vehicle of succession to various titles and roles, either in descent-groups or in descent-lines. However, it can also be primarily connected with marriage arrangements, economic transactions, political power or religious ceremonies. It can be a device for collective action, but it can also merely function as a cognitive category.

So both the category of descent being one amidst many other categories of kinship, and its multifarious applications, are hardly compatible with a monolithic interpretation in terms of social continuity, or of power and legal rights. We had better leave the trail followed by Radcliffe-Brown and some of his descendants and explore a new one. My ethno-graphic arguments for this point of view which show a theoretical escalation, can be summarized as follows:

  • a. For the understanding of a considerable number of N.G. systems the segmentary model does not appear to be useful. It tends to veil rather than unveil N.G. social reality and structure.
  • b. The throwing into relief of unilineal descent by using it as a parameter of analysis, comparison and classification, tends to cause an underrating of the specific importance of the bilateral infrastructure and of the horizontal stress in many N.G. kinship systems.
  • c. A taxonomy of systems in terms of one property, i.e. a continuum of filiation and descent, does not make them intelligible.

I shall explain my arguments by means of a topical Cook's Tour through West New Guinea which will concentrate on four pairs of concepts:

  • a. fragmentation versus segmentation.
  • b. spatial and dualistic versus segmentary models.
  • c. horizontal versus vertical model.
  • d. configurative versus correlative model.

3. Fragmentation and Segmentation

From a genealogical point of view we are often confronted with a process which Groves 21 aptly called fragmentation instead of segmentation. Firth 22 has labelled this type of process “definitive segmentation” or “gemmation.” Obviously there is fission and fusion, but not within a framework of connected and hierarchically arranged segments. There are plenty of societies labelled unilineal without a segmentary framework:—Nimboran, western hinterland of Sarmi, eastern coast of Sarmi, Waropen, southern coastal areas of the Eastern Vogelkop, Moejoe, Star Mountains. (See map). Closely connected with this absence of a segmentary conceptualization of society is the almost proverbial lack of putative or actual genealogical knowledge in these and other areas. 23

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I draw your special attention to the fact that in the above cases I have in mind the structure of a system not its operation. If the operation of a system is also accounted for, then the case in favour of a segmentary society is not strengthened. Even in areas which have a segmentary structure, such as the Wissel Lakes area and the Baliem area, its operation is cut across and impeded by the manifestations of other structuring principles, especially the principle of reciprocity, finding expression in individual affinal and exchange relationships, and the concentric principle, expressed in local in-group versus out-group attitudes and behaviour. It may be true that the numerous Dani tribes of the Baliem and Swart Valleys discern lineages, subclans, clans, agglomerations of clans, and moieties; this does not alter the fact that in daily routine, in the exchange of women, in the frequent wars and in ceremonies the dualistic unit composed of two localised lineages, each representing a dispersed moiety, is of paramount importance, and that regional aggregates irrespective of segmentary status come to the fore. Ploeg, meticulously analyzing a number of parishes of the Western Dani in Bokondini near the Swart Valley, reached the conclusion that the core of these parishes is formed by a named pair of units, the cores, of which in their turn consist of a number of “seemingly agnatically related men” recruited from various levels of segmentation. 30% of the adult male population did not live in the territory of their traditional section. In view of this situation he does not refer to these units as “lineages” but as “sections”. 24 With the exception of the dual organisation, my findings in the Star Mountains were analogous. 25

4. Spatial and Dualistic versus Segmentary Models

Although societies more or less fitting in a structural model of a segmentary society are not lacking (Wissel Lakes, Baliem Valley, Swart Valley, Ajamaroe area of the Central Vogelkop, and the Marind-Anim) two other models, or rather a combination of both, come more readily to mind, i.e. a conceptualization of society in spatial terms and in terms of dualism.

According to the first model, already touched upon by Salisbury, 26 a society is conceived as a series of local autonomous aggregates of equal status associated with a more or less defined tract of land and often with a regional ceremonial organization. The position of the local units within the system is defined by an arrangement of hamlets, villages, parishes and possible regional organizations according to geographical features, especially rivers or parts of rivers with their tributaries, and valleys or parts of valleys. This rather “concrete” conceptualization of society is very common and widely spread. For a spatial model on a higher level of abstraction, I refer to the concluding paragraph.

The “concrete” spatial model can be associated with unilineal descent (e.g. the truncated localized lineages or pseudo-lineages of Nimboran and Moejoe) and with ambilineal descent (e.g. the localized ramages of the Eastern Vogelkop) and with non-lineal kinship (e.g. the demes of the

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Illustration

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Tor River; 27 the extended personal kindreds of the Argoeni Bay. 28) The links between the local units are constituted by a bilateral network, and by manifestations of the principle of reciprocity (e.g. exchange of women, of commodities, songs, rituals, festivities and hostilities). A spatial arrangement need not create confusion from a genealogical point of view because in many areas descent units tend to coincide with the genealogical core of residence units (Nimboran, hinterland of Sarmi, Waropen, Eastern Vogelkop, Mimika, Asmat, Jachai of Mappi, Moejoe, Jafi).

A spatial arrangement of kin makes a wide knowledge of actual and putative genealogically interpreted intergroup relations superfluous and rather dysfunctional. Even within a localized kin-group the exact genealogical relations between its members may be of less interest. Being a member of the domiciled core constitutes sufficient proof of being a relative. Sometimes people even point to their domicile in order to “prove” their genealogical relationship with a certain kin-group. The coincidence of the native term for house and the generic term for kin-group in some areas (Waropen, Biak, Numfoor, Moejoe, Asmat) is clear evidence of the close connection between the genealogical and the territorial dimensions of kinship and descent. On the East Coast of Sarmi it is customary not to refer to a particular descent group by its (dispersed) clan name but by the name of the house in which this group lives or lived. 29

A dualistic arrangement of elements is highly characteristic for a considerable number of N.G. societies. It is not correlated with a definite mode of descent and of arranging kinship relations. It may be combined with patrilineal descent (Marind-Anim, Lake Murray, Suki, Elema, and also Baliem Valley), with patri-ambilincal descent (Asmat, and Vogelkop), with matri-ambilineal descent (Mimika, Mappi) and with collateral arrangement of kin (Frederik Hendrik Island and Mimika). It occurs in two modalities, the diametrical one and the concentric one. 30 Diametrical dualism dominates a huge area in the South ranging from Mimika in the West to the Elema of Papua 31 in the East. It includes the following areas and tribes: Mimika (Pouwer), Asmat (Zegwaard), Jachai of Mappi (to some extent, Boelaars), Frederik Hendrik Island (Serpenti) Marind-Anim (van Baal, Verschueren), Jee-anim (Verschueren), Lake Murray, Papua (van Nieuwenhuijzen), Suki, Papua (van Nieuwhenhuijzen), Elema. It manifests itself in a bewildering variety of specific forms and functions in the economic, social, political, ritual and cosmological field. It is a total social fact. The perplexing variety of its forms renders the coastal plain of South New Guinea eminently suited as a field for thorough and exact intracultural as well as intercultural comparison. This still has to be done. It may have a bearing on local organization, exemplified by the bipartition or double-partition of a village or parish in a spectacular way (Mimika, Asmat, Frederik Hendrik Island). It may bear upon a regional bipartition (Mimika, - 276 Asmat, Frederik Hendrik Island); it may manifest itself in an overall bipartition of society by means of moieties (Marind-Anim, Lake Murray, Suki, and also large areas of the Central Highlands). It may be a ritual and a ceremonial device which need not always coincide with a territorial bipartition (Mimika, Frederik Hendrik Island). It may be associated with a specific opposition of male versus female, such as is realized in the “male” and “female” rituals of Mimika, both performed by males as well as females, but in a different configuration. It may even function as a cosmological device. Van Baal's recent thorough study of Marind-Anim society and religion 32 in close collaboration with Father Verschueren, who has observed the Marind for more than 25 years and is still in the field, offers a spectacular illustration of a highly consistent cosmological system based on intricate dualistic identifications and oppositions. It includes elements such as subclans, clans, phratries, moieties and a hierarchy of totems and subtotems. It also comprises a number of highly intricate rites dramatizing a variety of myths which show a baffling consistency of symbols only to be understood after having gained an intimate knowledge of culture and society. Indications of diametrical dualism as a principle of cosmological classification are also found in the Baliem Valley. The clans constituting moieties are associated with certain animals and plants. 33

Concentric dualism is probably less common. It is apparent in the territorial and religious organization as well as in the classification of kin in the Star Mountains. 34

I hope it will be clear that what seems to be fragmentation and thereby lack of structure from a genealogical point of view, may show consistency and arrangement from a spatial or dualistic point of view.

5. Horizontal versus vertical arrangement

Rather pertinent data point to a generational, “horizontal” tendency in many N.G. kinship systems. The following hypothesis could be offered: A rather pronounced horizontal stress in various N.G. kinship systems tends to blur, ignore or even deny filiation and descent.

There is plenty of evidence for a certain lack of expression of filiation and descent. Frederik Hendrik Island offers a spectacular example. In spite of an ideally as well as statistically virilocal and patrilocal “layout”, any notion of patrilineal or matrilineal descent is lacking. 35 There are neither institutions nor kin-groups reflecting patrilineal descent. Gardens are passed on successively from a man to his brothers and to their sons. However, this rule of inheritance reflects cumulative patrifiliation rather than patrilineal descent. The kinship system neither discerns a patri- or a matri-line nor is it ancestor-based. Moreover, the tremendous importance of the institution of adoption, which is commonplace on the island and creates a complicated web of relations, rights and duties, even makes the use of the term filiation a dubious affair.

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A second indication of minimizing descent can be found in the “horizontal ideology” with respect to the genealogical origin of truncated lineages or ramages comprising only four to seven generations (patrilinea: Moejoe, Star Mountains, Sarmi; ambilineal: Mimika, Eastern Vogelkop). These descent groups are traced back to a number of persons considered to be siblings, their actual or putative parents being unknown. Sometimes the number of so-called siblings is so large that it tends to blur a lineal conception of the group.

A third indication of a tendency to ignore descent lines can be derived from a peculiar classification of distant kin, the theoretical implications of which have been first pointed out by my Dutch colleague van der Leeden. 36 According to this terminological system “one simplifies the classification of distant relatives by reducing them to classifications of relatives in the third degree. One does so by taking similarity or dissimilarity in sex of the linking relatives in the parents' generation as a starting point.” This method of classifying distant kin, which ignores levels of segmentation, has been noticed in a number of apparently unrelated areas, conventionally characterized by various modes of tracing kinship and descent (patrilineal: Sarmi, 37 Wissel Lakes, 38 presumably Ajamaroe, 39 Star Mountains 40; ambilineal: Mimika. 41 Van der Leeden comments on this systems as follows: “The resulting terminology does not fit in functionally with either a unilineal or a bilineal organization nor with a bilateral organization with generation-type terminology (Murdock's Hawaiian type). It can only be attributed to the influence of the nuclear family and the sibling group.” 42 He associates this terminology with the asymmetrical status of males and females (i.e. brother and sister) in the exchange of women. I agree with him and add to his comments that this terminology apparently ignores descent and concentrates on filiation and collaterality.

A fourth indication of ignoring a vertical arrangement is the frequent occurence in N.G. of the generation (Hawaiian) type of cousin terminology. It has been reported from: the coastal area of eastern Sarmi (patrilineal); Tor area (demes); eastern Vogelkop (ramages); Argoeni Bay (extended personal kindreds), Majrasi (presumably patrilineal), Mimika (matri-ambilineal); Asmat (patri-ambilineal); Jachai (matri-ambilineal); Frederik Hendrik Island (collateral stress). Moreover, in some areas we find a combination of Hawaiian and Iroquois terminology: Nimboran (patrilineal, possibly bilineal); Western hinterland of Sarmi (patrilineal); Bintoeni area (patrilineal); and the Hattam and Moiree tribes of the eastern Vogelkop (patri-ambilineal). The joint occurrence of vertical and horizontal traits, which is apparent from the cases dealt with suggests the assumption that such and other kinship systems might be fruitfully considered as the resultant of, amongst other factors, a vertical versus a horizontal arrangement of kin.

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An operational ignoring of filiation and descent is apparent from the fact that Papuans are often on familiar terms with relatives or pseudo-relatives, referred to as “real brothers” and “real sisters” without bothering about the genealogical connections. If explicitly asked, they shrug their shoulders or they refer to their parents or relatives of the parents' generations who told them so. Only the manifest behaviour with respect to these “siblings” is of interest to them. They are not able or not willing to trace the actual or putative, the complete or reduced connecting links. Sometimes they refer to a common but usually vague pedigree, but very often they omit to do so.

Having demonstrated the lack of expression of filiation and descent, I come to the core of my hypothesis: is a minimizing of filiation and descent correlated with a maximizing of horizontal stress? My answer would be affirmative. I refer to the “horizontal ideology” (page 277) and its blurring effects on descent. Further, I would draw attention to participants' models of their kinship system in terms of horizontal layers of kin. These layers are only vaguely and partially interconnected by means of actual or putative filiation. Only part of such a structure has operational functions, these being determined by factors such as physical proximity, reciprocity and personal feelings. Now these models have been reported exactly from two areas which minimize or even deny descent and filiation, i.e. Mimika and Frederik Hendrik Island. In Mimika highly localized non-exogamous agglomerations of putative relatives occur, indicated by a term taparu derived from “land” (taparè.) These taparu are considered to consist of a series of layers, of horizontal units. Each unit is composed of a number of persons belonging to one generation who claim to have an actual or putative mother or mother's mother in common. The vertical links between these horizontal units which are indicated by a term literally meaning “originating from one vagina” (peraekò), are usually indistinct because the relations between the peraekò and their “mothers” are scarcely known. 43

In a similar way, the non-localised extended personal kindreds (tjipente) of Frederik Hendrik Island are considered by their members to consist of a series of generation-layers (jaentjewe) constituted by a number of real and classificatory siblings. 44

In both areas common residence is an important unifier, even to such extent that genealogically distant relatives may be regarded as real siblings, if they have a common residence.

It is not surprising that in a system which stresses a collateral and horizontal, rather than a vertical, arrangement of kin, marriage between cross-cousins as well as parallel cousins is prohibited. The ban on marriage between cousins and its motivation (e.g. because they are of one blood) has been frequently reported and exists irrespective of mode of descent. Even in areas with a preference for (not a prescription of) marriage with mo.br.da. (Ajamaroe, Central Moejoe), a marriage with a biological mo.br.da. is not allowed or is frowned upon. This prohibition of marriage with close collateral kin and its motivation in a system stressing horizontal arrangement could be considered as the exact counterpart - 279 of the prohibition of marriage with unilineal kin in a system emphasizing vertical arrangement.

It is equally not astonishing that in systems stressing horizontal arrangement the solidarity and the difference in age between siblings function as main symbols of the relationships between individuals and between groups. The frequent occurrence of the pairs elder brother/younger brother, elder sister/younger sister, brother and sister, in many N.G. myths and stories may also be viewed in this light. The conspicuous meaning of siblingship has been reported by such a considerable number of fieldworkers (Held, van der Leeden, Oosterwal, Serpenti, Burridge, Pouwer) that it is safe to assume that siblings are thrown into relief by many N.G. societies and irrespective of mode of descent. The Waropen people for instance can only conceive of the relation between marriage and kinship in terms of “brother” and “sister”. The prescription to marry with a woman classified as a mo.br.da. is always described as follows: “The son of a sister must marry the daughter of a brother . . .” One's interlocuter always has to think for a moment before he has equated the formula with the usual one. Less bright individuals even denied that the two formulas mean the same thing. Nobody recognized that this system implied a bride-giving and a bride-taking group in addition to ego's group—and indeed this is not apparent, given the present-day composition of the ruma (which is comparable with sub-lineage). On the other hand, everyone immediately denied the possibility of brother and sister exchange. 45

In Mimika 46 a man opposes his own children, his brother's children and those of male bilateral cousins to his sister's children and those of female bilateral cousins by using a terminological opposition, i.e. the children of my penis versus the children of my anus (kamarima-watakò). Anus serves as a symbol for sister's vagina. He says, “I am kamarima, he (or she) is watakò.” “My relationship to X is that of Y's brother's child, to Y's sister's child”. Just as the Waropen people he indicates his relation with mo.br.da. from the point of view of cross sex siblings.

In the Star Mountains the sibling relationships together with a lineal arrangement of kin constitute the key to an understanding of the kinship system. 47

In his article on Tangu siblings Burridge reaches the following conclusions: 48 “. . . the relationship between brother and sister could be said to be the pivot of Tangu social life and culture.” (p. 130). “. . . . descent was probably always calculated from siblingship and not vice versa” (p. 128). “. . . . marriage rules probably took their departure from siblingship rather than descent” (p. 130). “. . . siblingship occupies much the same place among Tangu as does the lineage among the Tallensi” (p. 153).

It is also very interesting to learn that the Tangu system modeled on the sibling relation of solidarity and exchange combines very well with various modes of descent.

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Owing to a vertical bias in social anthropology the structural importance of the horizontal arrangement of kin has been neglected. The horizontal stress in many N.G. societies is not only a matter of operational value of actual collaboration between kin. It will be clear from the examples given that it also has a structural component. A kinship system is to be characterized by, among other things, the relative position of its constituting elements between the lines of vertical and or horizontal arrangement. If we do not take the horizontal arrangement into explicit consideration or if we subordinate it to the vertical arrangement, the structure of N.G. systems will not be intelligible to us.

A vertical bias also tends to distort our view and interpretation of the bilateral infrastructure which is shared by all societies irrespective of their modes of descent. In accordance with a British scientific tradition, bilateral kinship is usually projected on the vertical axis either by stating that kinship is based on descent (Radcliffe-Brown) or by identifying bilateral kinship with (complementary) filiation, a term which to my mind implies a vertical conception of kin; be it at a minimum, i.e. the culturally recognized bond between a man and his social parents. A vertical bias is also apparent in the current meaning of another term denoting bilateral kin, i.e. cognates which means “persons akin by birth”. 49 Firth defines “cognatic” as follows:

cognatic stock—the descendants (my italics) of a married pair reckoned through both male and female offspring.”
cognatic descent group—those descendants of a married pair reckoned through both male and female offspring and operationally defined, so that they share common aims and actions in a corporate manner. This term is equivalent to bilateral descent group.” 50

Murdock distinguishes between two main types of kinship systems, i.e., the unilineal or agnatic type and the cognatic type. The latter comprises three basic subtypes: bilateral, quasi-unilineal, ambilineal. 51

It seems to me that the opposition unilineal-bilateral or cognatic is a false one, because “lateral” does not designate the component of “vertical”. Bilateral kinship is neither a point on a vertical or horizontal line nor a resultant of two lines. It is a field, a universe. You cannot characterize a system by its field, its universe, its infrastructure. Therefore a characterization of a kinship system by naming it bilateral or cognatic, if this term is equivalent with bilateral, makes no sense.

Although the bilateral field is of no use for characterizing a structure, for designing a typology of systems, this does not mean that we are entitled to forget or to neglect the study of it. The bilateral field may affect considerably the structural set-up and its operation if it is thrown into conceptual or functional relief. It is my impression that there are ample indications for this relief in N.G. In Mimika myths it struck me that according to native concepts the right half of a person's body is associated with his mother and the left half with his father. This concept - 281 corresponds with a matri-ambilineal tracing of descent in Mimika. Right is superior to left. The reverse conception has been reported by the patrol officer Zevenbergen from the Eastern Vogelkop, which is characterized by a patri-ambilineal descent. It has been reported from many areas that the bilateral localized and non-localized networks of kinship are of tremendous importance for the functioning of N.G. societies.

The significance of the horizontal, collateral arrangement of kin together with the conspicuous role of the bilateral infra-structure may explain why even N.G. kinship systems which show a lineal, that is, vertical stress, are seldom ancestor-based. Very often the lineal ancestors are unknown, or can only be traced at great pains. Not infrequently the ultimate ancestors are considered to be siblings of the same or of opposite sex, their actual or putative parents being unknown. In this connection it is not accidental that a cult of lineal ancestors comparable with the ancestor-cults of China, Indonesia or Africa is virtually lacking. Barnes shares this opinion: “An agnatic ancestor cult either does not exist or else does not provide contexts in which non-resident agnates or agnates from co-ordinate segments, are brought together”. “In most, though not in all, Highland societies the dogma of descent is absent or is held only weakly. . . . ” 52

One often gets the impression that the vertical line is not drawn from a clearly-defined top downward but from a broad collateral base upward to an ill-defined top. In a way, it reflects ascent rather than descent. Unilineal descent in some African societies, such as the Tallensi and the Ashanti, differs from unilineal descent in several N.G. societies because its relative position in the overall structural framework is different. For this reason we should beware of the “butterfly-collector” 53 in our science of man. I would like to emphasize the view that we cannot iron out this difference by stating that the structural frameworks are similar but that there is a difference in operation brought about by different empirical circumstances. Although demographic and ecological conditions such as we may find in N.G. do promote deviations from the lineal principle as far as the composition and functioning of the descent group is concerned, and although it may be true that these conditions throw the bilateral infrastructure into relief, they do not constitute a sufficient cause for the existence of a stress on horizontal arrangement, exemplified in native “horizontal” models. One should discern between the bilateral field and the structuring principle of horizontal arrangement.

6. Configurative versus correlative model 54

If structure is a conceptual, a symbolic, device manifesting itself in a system, if structure is primarily arrangement rather than a body of interdependent elements, it goes without saying that a comparative understanding of systems is served best by determining explicitly the relative position of the elements within a system.

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Meggitt's typology of kinship systems arranged into a continuum from filiation to descent, informs us about the modalities of a social phenomenon, i.e. patrilineal descent, and if correlated with the availability of land, about a possible interdependence of two phenomena. However, it does not clarify a structural arrangement.

If we are interested in arrangement we might approach a system from a different angle. A system might be considered as a resultant in empirical reality of the operation of a restricted series of “internal” principles of arrangement, in a constant interaction with a variable external situation. The human mind arranges phenomena by a constant process of cognition, identification and polarization. Calling a certain object black presupposes both an identification of this object with other objects called black and a contra-distinction of this object to other objects called white. Things do not have absolute self-sustaining properties. The latter are always a matter of relative position. That is the reason why I prefer a positional, a configurative typology such as Lévi-Strauss's “échange generalisé” versus “échange restraint” to a correlative typology of functionally inter-related elements such as Meggitt's typology of Highland systems or Murdock's types of social systems.

In section 5 I tried to apply this notion of structure to kinship systems in New Guinea by:

  • a. identifying modes of unilineal, bilineal, ambilineal descent as modalities of one principle of arrangement, i.e. the principle of vertical arrangement.
  • b. identifying modes of collateral arrangement of siblings, cousins, and other relatives considered to belong to one generation as manifestations of the principle of horizontal arrangement.
  • c. by relating the vertical to the horizontal arrangement.
  • d. by considering a certain kinship system as the resultant of two contrasting arrangements, i.e. the vertical and the horizontal.

A cross-cultural typology can be designed by arranging various kinship systems, each of them represented by a point, on a continuum which connects a horizontal and a vertical axis representing the contrasting principles of collateral and lineal arrangement.

It should be kept in mind, that the model and cross-cultural typology suggested by me covers all kinship system which are traditionally labelled as either agnatic or cognatic, unilineal or bilateral. I consider this an advantage because so-called bilateral, collateral and unilineal elements often jointly occur in a system. This fact has to be accounted for in our structural model of the system. I simply see no point in confining bilateral and collateral kinship phenomena exclusively to the operational realm of a system.

Evidently, the two principles dealt with are not the only ones which give rise to a social system. Mauss and Lévi-Strauss have stressed the importance of reciprocity as a structuring principle. They tend to ignore or take for granted the principles expounded in this paper. It should be clear that the principles of vertical and horizontal arrangement cannot be considered as mere functions or accessories of exchange. Nevertheless, - 283 N.G. social systems offer striking evidence of the tremendous weight of various modalities of the principle of reciprocity. I surmise that I need not document this view. The exchange of women is one of its most substantial manifestations. In view of the undeniable, amply documented fact that Papuans consider women and deal with women as key gifts in a never-ending series of transactions, or reciprocal prestations, which link groups and individuals, it could hamper our understanding of structure if we mistook affinal relations for complementary filiation.

My Dutch colleague, van der Leeden, draws our attention to the fact that two contrasting modalities of exchange of women jointly occur in a number of N.G. societies. 55 In the very same society we may find direct exchange or “échange restraint” exemplified by sister exchange and fixed symmetric connubium, together with indirect exchange, or “échange generalisé,” exemplified by: (a) a circulating connubium between units of exchange, (b) a circulation of women through the generations. I would like to add (c) a circulation of women by means of a bride-price connected with a ban on direct exchange. In view of this fact it seems possible to design a model and a cross-cultural typology of marriage systems conceived as resultants of the opposing principles of direct and indirect exchange. It is my impression that coastal marriage systems tend to stress a direct exchange, while Highland systems tend to emphasize indirect exchange by means of a bride-price. It would take us too far to digress on this subject. I refer to the commendable publication of van der Leeden, just mentioned and a publication of mine 56 dealing among other topics with the joint occurrence of indirect exchange, by means of a bride-price and by means of marriage with mo.br.da., in the Moejoe area.

There is also ample room for a more abstract model of spatial arrangement than the native models mentioned on pages 274-5. The pattern of residence of groups and individuals may seem to be determined by external circumstances rather than by internal arrangement. Intensive horticulture and modern industry are apparently correlated with concentration of settlements, while on the other hand shifting cultivation and a sago and fish subsistence correspond with a dispersion of settlements. However, this observation is apparent rather than real. In the highly concentrated western cities there is nevertheless a predilection for privacy, for physical distance. On the other hand, the Mimika people traditionally living in dispersed hamlets prefer to behave like birds of a feather flocking together. The Star Mountain people show an ideal and statistical preference for nuclear-family dwellings in dispersed parishes, while the Eastern Vogelkop highland settlements which are even more dispersed stick to longhouses comprising three to seven nuclear families.

So it might be possible to handle proximity and distance as opposing principles of a spatial model, which is only partly dependent on external factors.

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There may be other useful principles of arrangement. For the gaining of insight it is irrelevant whether we consider these principles as merely heuristic devices or as really existing properties of the human mind.

We might use the configurative approach for two purposes:

  • (a) for the construction of cross-cultural models of sub-systems or microsystems based on a set of principles. For instance, we might design a positional model of the subsystems of exchange including marriage, or of kinship or of dualism. The modalities of these subsystems might be correlated with external specific factors. The trend toward direct exchange of sisters in many coastal areas of New Guinea might be correlated with strongly developed local in-group consciousness and its determinants. On the other hand, the frequent occurrence in the Highlands of an indirect exchange of women by means of a bride-price might be correlated with a traditional focus of interest, i.e. local and inter-local trade, barter, travelling around, banking and commercial enterprise. The stressing of collateral arrangement of kin and the relative importance of the bilateral field might be connected with various effects of the dominant position of the small local group frequently not exceeding 100 inhabitants, and the rather simple organisation and techniques of subsistence economy.
  • (b) for the construction of intra-cultural overall models by combining the models of subsystems in various fields, such as kinship, territorial organization, economics and religion. What are the common denominators of the various systems, if any?

In both cases the suggested models have two advantages:

  • 1. They aim explicitly at the arrangement and the relative position of elements and thus touch the core of any structure.
  • 2. They cover a wide field of cultural items including kinship, marriage, territorial organization, economy, religion and cosmology and thereby bridge the gap between the concepts of society and culture, both of which are symbolic devices and show arrangement. They do so by reducing an extended and complicated field of cultural and social data to restricted sets of modalities of arranging principles.

We surmise that society and culture manifest themselves as systems. We are also aware of the fact that these systems are predominantly manmade. We only partially know how their structures arise, subsist and change in the mind of man. We still wonder how highly divergent elements which moreover may be far removed from and even contrary to empirical reality, are arranged by man into often analogous and consistent though not necessarily harmonious configurations.

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1   This article is a revised version of a paper presented to a conference on Behavioural Science Research in New Guinea, sponsored by the United States National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council, Behavioural Sciences Division, Pacific Research Committee. The conference was held in Honolulu from 10th to 25th August, 1965. Thanks are due to my colleagues Raymond Firth and John A. Barnes for their comments on the original paper, and especially to Dr. John Harré of Otago University, Dunedin, for his constructive criticism which induced me to rewrite several crucial paragraphs. Dr. Mary E. Salisbury of McGill University, Canada, was kind enough to revise the English text of the original paper.
2   Schneider 1965:78.
3   Barnes 1962, Brown 1962, de Bruijn and Pouwer 1959, Dutoit 1962, Epstein 1964, van der Leeden 1960. Pouwer 1960, 1961, 1964, Vayda and Cook 1964.
4   Barnes 1962.
5   Firth 1961:30-40.
6   Vayda and Cook 1964:802, referring to Meggitt 1962.
7   Jarvie 1964.
8   Barnes 1962:6.
9   Meggitt 1965: concluding chapter.
10   Fortes 1959.
11   Freeman 1961.
12   Leach 1962.
13   Schneider 1965:49.
14   Radcliffe-Brown 1950:13-14.
15   Radcliffe-Brown op.cit.: 43.
16   Meggitt 1965.
17   Meggitt 1965:265.
18   Meggitt, loc.cit. In a footnote he refers in this connection to the cognatically organized Land Dayak (Geddes 1954:61) who settle conflicts over estates by applying the rules of last use of the land and the principle of seniority by age. I do not see the logical connection of these rules with patrilineal descent and patrilocality.
19   Barnes 1962.
20   Radcliffe-Brown 1950:84.
21   Groves 1963:15.
22   Firth 1957:7.
23   For an abridged documentation of these statements mainly drawn from Dutch fieldwork reports I refer to de Bruijn and Pouwer 1959.
24   Ploeg, Ph.D. Thesis (TSS, Canberra) and Ploeg 1966:262.
25   Pouwer 1964:136-137, 150-158.
26   Salisbury 1956:6.
27   Oosterwal 1961.
28   Van Logchem 1963.
29   Van der Leaden 1953:17.
30   These terms borrowed from Lévi-Strauss 1956.
31   Williams 1940.
32   Van Baal 1966.
33   Peters 1965:24-27.
34   Pouwer 1964.
35   Serpenti 1965:85.
36   Van der Leeden 1960:137.
37   Van der Leeden 1956.
38   Pospisil 1960.
39   Elmberg 1955.
40   Pouwer 1964.
41   Pouwer 1955.
42   Van der Leeden 1960:137.
43   Pouwer 1955:78, 79, 87.
44   Serpenti 1965:68, 70.
45   Held 1947:112-114, as cited by van der Leeden 1960:138.
46   Pouwer 1955:74-75.
47   Pouwer 1964:148, 158.
48   Burridge 1959:120, 130, 153.
49   Murdock 1960:2, following Leach and Freeman.
50   Firth 1963:23.
51   Murdock 1960:13, 14.
52   Barnes 1962:6, 7.
53   Leach 1961:2.
54   For a fuller discussion of the theoretical and methodological arguments pro and contra and the validity of both models see Pouwer 1966a, Köbben 1966 and Pouwer 1966b. For a practical demonstration of configurative models I refer to Pouwer 1964 and 1966c.
55   Van der Leeden 1960:138-49.
56   Pouwer 1961:17.