The work of E.E Evans-Pritchard, the now somewhat old-fashioned, but utterly meticulous and detailed anthropologist, and I, have crossed but once. As an undergraduate I studied the first of his books from his fieldwork with the Nuer, a people of the Nile Valley
What follows are fragments of notes I took at the time.
…scales, from the smallest to the largest:
Level 1: everything including common name, common territory
(clan) moral obligation to unite in war.
Level 4 (tribal): moral obligation to settle disputes, common law recognised, common kinship sentient.
Level 5: (pan-tribal): alliance, common tradition, common tribal identity, history and myth.
The Nuer have no leader: EP tried to convince administrators of this, that there was no point looking for leaders.
- no overarching central authority
- threatened use of force the central sanction
- ritual mediation and sanctions (threat, ritual pollution, prohibition on commensality – from Latin, meaning ‘sharing the same table’ – between clansmen)
- minimal law: the moral obligation to settle disputes
- pervasive moral ideas about kinship and right and wrong (in order to mobilise support)
Law enforcement = moral right + community support + force + spatial/social proximity.