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5 Understanding is Like Hair Limited Cultural Sharing and the Inappropriateness of "All by All" and "Some by Some" Models for Swahili Culture
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Are the Swahili a "Homogeneous Society"?

Before turning to more detailed examinations of who shares at higher and lower levels with whom, it is useful to consider an issue of broad importance both theoretically and ethnographically: do the Swahili comprise a "homogeneous group" with its culture evenly shared among group members regardless of membership in such subgroups as families? If this were so, it could be argued that a distinction between "homogeneous" and "heterogeneous" (or at least less homogeneous) societies is an important consideration in how culture operates. Whatever may be found about culture's operation for the Swahili would quite possibly be different from what would be found in non-homogeneous societies.

The question, then, is whether or not the Swahili give evidence of being more homogeneous in cultural sharing than other societies that differ in composition from the Swahili. Some indication of the answer to this can be found by comparing Swahili cultural sharing to that of two other groups examined as part of my earlier study (Swartz 1982a ). Unlike the Swahili, these two groups are made up of ethnically diverse families, at least some of whose members had migrated to their current homes from other areas. Also unlike the Swahili, most family members in these other two groups associated with nonnuclear family kin only occasionally or rarely. Compared to the other two


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groups that experience the isolation of families common to the urban life in the Euro-American setting, the Swahili community is much more nearly a "traditional society" whose culture might be expected to be more "homogeneous."[2]

Despite having the traits of a "traditional society," table 5A shows that as concerns cultural sharing, the Swahili are not as "homogeneous" as might be expected. Although the Swahili family members do share with one another more than same family members do in the other two groups, La Jolla, one of the "heterogeneous" groups, shows more sharing among people from different families ("Total Sample"). This hints that viewing the Swahili as distinctly more homogeneous culturally than the other two groups is not fully warranted. The evidence becomes stronger with examination of table 5B.

Here we see the difference between family and group-wide sharing is substantially greater for the Mombasa Swahili than for either La Jolla or Kahl. This is just the reverse of what would be expected if Mombasa's homogeneity were reflected in a unformity of cultural sharing greater than that found in the other, more heterogeneous groups.


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5 Understanding is Like Hair Limited Cultural Sharing and the Inappropriateness of "All by All" and "Some by Some" Models for Swahili Culture
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