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8 Tongues are Spears Shame and Differentiated Conformity
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Self-Reinforcing "Fear"

The heart of both these anecdotes and, I hypothesize, a central element in the effectiveness of the arbiters in the shame process among the Swahili is the "fear" in which these senior members of the community are held. Because of this fear, informants report, people do not do aibu things that the arbiters are likely to find out about, and they certainly do not do aibu things in the presence of these men. I infer from this that anything done in the presence of the arbiters can be taken to be almost certainly free of aibu, and anything that would not be done in their presence has at least some taint of aibu about it. Informants agree with this inference (but seem to find it too obvious to mention).

Since the arbiters' views are taken so seriously in establishing whether behavior is shameful or not, actors have a considerable stake in knowing what these views are. On the one hand, this is made somewhat difficult because instances or examples of their judgments on particular individuals and their behavior are not available, since, as noted, they rarely or never explicitly make such judgments. On the other hand, everyone has a fairly good idea of what the arbiters are likely to think about a wide range of behavior from two related sources.

First, the arbiters are more or less explicitly seen as the representatives of traditional beliefs and values that are, of course, widely understood in the community. Second, the arbiters are all particularly pious Muslims in a community that is generally quite pious, and the views of arbiters are understood to be closely related to the precepts, and there are many, in the Koran. In addition, over the years, various individual arbiters have published their views about desirable and undesirable activities in pamphlets and Mombasa newspapers and presented them on radio and television. But probably more important than the publicly presented general views of the arbiters is the actual behavior of the arbiters themselves.

Arbiters attain their prestige because of the high standards they set for themselves and, importantly, because of their being viewed as living up to these standards. Their standards are understood to be more exacting than those of other group members, and if, given these standards, they can do it, it is not aibu.

The presence of the arbiters when particular behaviors are manifested also serves as an indication of what is acceptable. If they are present and something is done in their presence, the thing is unlikely to be aibu. In part, this is because most group members are strongly constrained by the presence of the arbiters. The fact that young men can actually get a disease from behaving badly in front of the arbiters and their lesser, mature brethren is an indication of how constraining their presence is. This constraint, it should be added,


contributes to the prestige of the arbiters because it shows that people fear them, and that fear is a measure of their prestige. In addition, however, the arbiters try to avoid settings and contexts where aibu are likely to occur.

We saw this in the case of my friend's reluctance to visit me at the club. The high-prestige men in general make a point of avoiding places where men are likely to fight or where men and women are to be seen together as well as places, like the club, where drinking goes on. Aibu rarely occurs in the presence of arbiters, then, both because the arbiters avoid being where it might occur and because the real fear they inspire makes it unlikely actors will be bold enough to misbehave in their presence.

The process is an interactive and self-reinforcing one. The fact that aibu does not occur in their presence, even though partly due to their avoiding settings where it might occur, contributes to the arbiters' prestige, and that prestige is the basis for the fear that makes it unlikely that they will be confronted with others' aibu.

It would seem that in the case of the missing corn, the thief would have lost his prestige and would no longer inspire fear. There is almost surely, however, a generalization of the respect that derives from high standards and their maintenance. This generalization makes it difficult to disassociate from a person all the fear originally vested in him because of his reputation for righteous behavior even when he abandons that behavior. Just this process led the field owner to be silent and creep away when he found out who was stealing from him. The same respect, perhaps mixed with a concern that he would not be believed, led him to remain silent for years after the event. The theft was an aibu without doubt, but the "fear" of the thief made unmasking him impossible.

This story is an extreme one, of course. It is told among the Swahili as an illustration of how powerful the fear of the respected men is and how this fear can inhibit the behavior of the other group members. Even when an arbiter is obviously at a moral, psychological, and social disadvantage, an upstanding member of the community still cannot bring himself to risk his displeasure and disapproval by revealing the respected man's crime.

If this is true, when the ordinary group member has done nothing that could by any stretch of group standards be considered wrong, while the arbiter is personally involved in a serious aibu, how much truer it must be when the ordinary group member sees himself as having aibu and sees the respected man as evaluating the aibu from a position of unmatched moral and social standing.

Group members do not follow the views of the arbiters, as they understand these views, in all instances. The fact that these men receive a good deal of attention in conversation and a good deal of deference in interaction, however, strongly suggests that their understood views are a frequent source of influence on behavior. The arbiters can be looked at from the outside as rep-


resentatives of the group's most respected standards, and the "fear" of the arbiters can be seen as a force encouraging adherence to those standards. This despite the fact that members of different status groupings may have their own standards that differ from one another and, even, from those attributed to the arbiters.

The arbiters' judgments override the differing judgments of different sanctioners in the sense, at least, that they leave in the minds of some of the judged and some of the sanctioners the clear notion—and this can be seen in informants' statements—that the behavior seen as disapproved by arbiters really may be aibu despite others accepting or, even, honoring it. In this respect, and it is a passive one, the arbiters' influence transcends the diversity of standards and judgments based in status differences and acts as a source of moral unity for the community as a whole.

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8 Tongues are Spears Shame and Differentiated Conformity
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