Rules and Rulers

Political Processes in a Tswana Chiefdom

Publication Date: 03/01/1978

Journal: Man (NS)

Reissue Date:

Page start: 1

Page End: 20

Volume: 1

Edition: 13

Most Southern African political ethnographies have relied heavily upon the analytical assumption that careers of indigenous politicians are largely determined by ascriptive factors. It is shown here that, among the Barolong boo Ratshidi (Tswana), ascriptive rules rarely determine the devolution of authority; rather, they represent a code through which the complexities of political competition are ordered and comprehended. Indeed, ascription and achievement, far from being opposed principles of political determination, constitute co-existent levels of a single reality. Competition for the chiefship, moreover, is not limited to interregna; it is a continuous process, of which succession to office is one potential outcome. Under these conditions, the meaning of political rules, and their systematic relationship to the political process, require re-assessment. In providing such a re-assessment, an attempt is made to explore its implications for a comprehension of genealogical manipulation and political history among the Barolong.

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