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11 The Dynamics of Swahili Culture A Status-Centered View
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Conformity to Communitywide and Status-Specific Understandings

Two different sources of shame can be distinguished among the Mombasa Swahili (see chap. 8). One sort comes from the judgments of what I called "sanctioners," with every community member being a sanctioner as concerns the behavior of some others under some circumstances. The sanctioners' judgments are, and are taken by community members to be, dependent on the category in which the person judged is classified for purposes of judgment and, also, the category that is salient for the sanctioner when the judgment is made. In the status of brother-in-law, for example, a man's judgment of another's adultery is strongly negative, but in the status of crony, the judgment is quite different even though it could be of the same acts by the same man were he not married to the sanctioner's sister.

The importance of status-specific cultural conformity will be obvious, and the emotional consequences of the sort of judgment sanctioners make is an important support for just such differentiated conformity. It is worth noting that such judgments are not limited to communities like the Swahili where shame is a frequent and active focus of attention. Although a pervasive concern with shame may make others' judgments more poignant for more of the population, it is not at all a necessary part of their influencing behavior. If this is so, it implies that even without the extra emotional impetus of shame, the judgments that people attribute to others are universally important in encouraging differentiated conformity even if substantial cultural heterogeneity is present.

People are not, of course, equally concerned about all judgments of themselves. One of the aspects of the social world being divided into culturally significant categories is that assignment to one or another establishes the judgment of a potential judge as being more and less important as concerns the assessment of what an individual does as a member of one or more of his categories. This "choice" of sanctioners is central to the shame process, but it is not limited to shame. Even in instances when the judgments carry little emotional charge, their prospective social consequences can make them a force for conformity to the judge's expectations when the judged understands them as significant. The one judged, then, plays a main part in the potency of a judgment by the status he assigns the judge. Moreover, since the judge's expectations are what determine his judgment, the status he assigns himself


and is accorded by the judged vis-à-vis the behavior at issue is crucial. There is, thus, a dual dependence on status assignment at the heart of the socially, culturally, and psychologically vital assessment process.

It should be made explicit that those involved in this process are not necessarily limited to the actual participants in the role in which the judged behavior occurred. Judgments on behavior are often made on one's performance in a status by people having no direct connection to that status. Thus, one's mother may judge one's performance as an employee, and her judgment may be important to one's behavior because of the character of the multiplex relationship with her.[11] A neighbor's judgment of the same behavior, however, might be far less influential despite there being a multiplex relationship with him as well. It might be, however, that the neighbor's assessment is nevertheless more influential than that of a customer who is nothing more than that since the simplex relationship, customer-employee, is likely to be influential in only a limited way.

By definition, multiplex relationships cross a number of life's domains, and their participants are the same individuals over long periods of time. The statuses that are the basis for participation in these relationships provide expectations that may serve as bases for evaluations of performances by fellow participants in situations and interactions where the judge may not be directly involved or, even, present. Simplex relations, by contrast, may be highly important to role performance, but their importance is limited to the role in which they exist.

Since people are aware of the "outside" judgments involving multiplex relationships and wish to be positively evaluated by their partners in these relationships, various strategies based on shared understandings are used to increase the likelihood of such evaluation. In the Swahili community, none of these is more striking than control of information.

Even the rather extreme secrecy of the Swahili, however, does not prevent almost every act from being subject to the judgments of sanctioners. More than that, in the Swahili community (and possibly elsewhere), there is an additional and much more limited set of judges, the "arbiters."

These are men of substantial prestige who are distinctive in that they are said to tisha, frighten, their fellow community members. Their judgments are not, as the sanctioners are, relative to the status of the judged. Every community is judged in a similar way, with little attention to differences in gender and age and none to differences in wealth, learning, or anything else. The standards they employ are universal: what is unacceptable for one is unacceptable for all.

Interestingly, however, they make no explicit judgments, nor do they act differently toward those who are supposed to have won their displeasure. Young men—young women may be spoken of similarly, but I never encountered it—are praised for "fearing the faces of the mature people" (kucha uso


wa wazima ),[12] and this means that the young men behave in accord with universally applicable standards as though they feared the judgments of high-prestige men, the arbiters. The arbiters make no public—or, as far as I know, private—statements about who is naughty and who is nice. Nor are they explicit about which behaviors are judged as one or the other.

The arbiters are, in fact, a sort of evaluative Rorschach. The understanding that they would disapprove of something is what is important since they do not actually disapprove, or approve either, of anything in ways that can be perceived. Not only do they refrain from making explicit judgments but they also continue to behave toward the judged with the same dignified and restrained politeness they show everyone else.

They function in at least one respect as an internalized set of standards does: the judgments are no less real for having no external signs. From the perspective of an observer, doing something to avoid displeasing the arbiters is indistinguishable from doing something because conscience dictates it be done. As with internal prompting, the person involved "just knows" what the arbiters approve and disapprove. In neither case is there a social process others can see.

The only thing that can be seen and that connects the arbiters to approval or disapproval of specific behavior is what can be inferred from their own behavior. What they openly do is almost always viewed as acceptable for everyone since they are the avatars of good behavior.

The arbiters have no Swahili name, but this unmarked category is as much a status as are those occupied by the sanctioners. The arbiters, unlike the sanctioners, have but a single status, and their imagined judgments are virtually uniform regardless of who is judged. Still, both sorts of judges are effective only if their statuses are. Only when men tisha (inspire fear in) others are their judgments taken with the seriousness arbiters' judgments are, and inspiring fear is a main expectation of those in the arbiter status. Similarly, a brother-in-law's disapproval of one having a "secret wife" is in accord with the expectations of his status vis-à-vis one's own as sister's husband and, therefore, is likely to be taken seriously so long as the brother-in-law demonstrates the general interest in his sister's welfare called for by his status's expectations. In effect, then, the ability of judgments to affect behavior depends on the judgments of the judges, whether arbiters or sanctioners.

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