The Ethnographic Focus
As will be seen in chapter 2, the Mombasa Swahili are part of an ancient urban community that has been in its present location on the coast of what is now Kenya for centuries. The members of this group view themselves as the heirs to cultural traditions that remain vital guides to behavior despite changes in their community and in the city their forebears founded nearly a millennium ago.
Part of the group's tradition is seen in the two-section organization of the community. As chapter 3 shows, in recent decades, this community has been strained by a weakening in the division between the sections through individuals claiming statuses that would place them outside the community and unite them with others from whom they were previously separated. This strain has been intensified by what are seen as claims for community membership from occupants of statuses that were not formerly understood as members. These strains have diminished the community's integration and stopped most joint activity. They have not, however, undermined the community's effectiveness as, in many senses, the arena for its members' lives. It still provides its members with the cultural foundation for living and the social framework within which they are born, work, marry, raise children, and die.
Chapter 4 examines the Swahili nuclear family and shows that in this largely endogamous community, it is far the most significant grouping in its members' lives. Kinship beyond the nuclear family is quite important, and ties with neighbors are lasting, but it is in relationships with parents, spouse, children, and siblings that most community members spend most of their time and much of what is vital to each person takes place.
Despite this importance, chapter 5 shows that even in this effectively functioning community, the sharing of cultural elements concerned with some of the fundamental issues in nuclear family relationships and group concerns is strictly limited. Members of long-established and stable nuclear families were interviewed concerning nuclear family issues (e.g., "Who makes decisions in your house?") and values ("Should children love their fathers more, their mothers more, or both the same?"). Informants' responses were compared with their fellow family members, with members of other families who occupied the same family statuses, and with all other informants without regard to family membership or status.
This study showed that even in the groups with the highest level of sharing, that is, among members of the same nuclear family, more than a quarter of the items were not shared and that within the community as a whole, almost
a half were not shared. It was also found that individuals belonging to the same status, for example, "daughter," shared the cultural elements concerned with that status less with other occupants of that same status than they did with those who shared with them the status "member of my family."
Since the nuclear family among the Mombasa Swahili is a co-resident group whose members spend a great deal of every day together, since marriage in this group is mainly endogamous to the community, and since no questions were asked about matters beyond the scope of the nuclear family's life, it seems a reasonable working hypothesis that cultural sharing in other social settings (i.e., outside the nuclear family) concerning other issues is unlikely to be much greater save, perhaps, in the area of technical knowledge shared among those in the status devoted to its employment.
There is some basis for believing that, in fact, there is less sharing in other areas of life (as work by Fernandez [1965, 1982] on ritual, Keesing [1987a ] on eschatology, and Holland [1987a ] on academic matters among students suggest) than within the nuclear family. However, even if sharing is as great as within the family, the probability that it is less than complete in all relationships and concerning all issues is, unless specifically shown otherwise, taken as a basic element in discussing culture's functioning in the highly integrated Swahili community.
The fact is that the social lives of the members of the community are, aside from limited relations based on schooling and occupation, almost entirely within the community. Further, membership in the community is an unquestionably important part of the identity of every one of the scores of members I have talked with over the years, and the ethnocentrism to be expected in a functioning community is decidedly present. Taking these facts together with the nearly endogamous patterns of friendship and marriage shows that the group's culture remains vital and effective.