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3 The Brotherhood of Coconuts Unity, Conflict, and Narrowing Loyalties

1. I collected the proverb quoted here in Old Town, and when I needed exegetical advice (as I did with all those whose use was not repeatedly seen and heard), I discussed them with a number of informants. My friend and associate, Sh. Yahya Ali Omar, who helped me with most aspects of this study and is prominently mentioned in the preface, is a particularly subtle and thoughtful interpreter of proverbs. I am especially grateful for his assistance in their interpretation and also for his active assistance

in their collection. Some of the proverbs I collected are also listed in Scheven's (1981) inclusive compendium of proverbs from most of the Swahili communities along the East African coast, especially those south of Mombasa. [BACK]

2. According to Swahili informants, uzomba refers to Muslim beliefs or practices, so that the root of the term is clearly based in the common Muslim religion of the two groups. Indian Muslims, however, are not referred to by this term. [BACK]

3. This dish is sometimes called ''mush" in the ethnographic, and other, literature but is too dense to be eaten with a spoon. It is eaten by using the thumb and first two fingers to break off a quantity from a bowl and roll this into a ball with the tips of the first three digits. Rice is eaten in the same way, and, given the Swahili preference for cooking that results in the grains retaining their individuality, a good deal of dexterity is required to dip the rice "ball" into its sauce or gravy ( machuzi ) without dribbling on one's face, clothes, and the mat on which one is seated. [BACK]

4. A number of Swahili strongly supported the Germans in World War II, and there was a baraza whose main topic of daily conversation was the latest news that indicated German strength and success. Such actions as the rationing of rice may have had a role in the anti-British, pro-German feeling, which, however, had strong and deep roots in, inter alia, the antislavery campaigns and their promotion of Christian missions over the decades since they assumed an active role on the coast. [BACK]

5. Stroebel calls these societies lelemama after the dance that they most frequently performed (e.g., 1979:56-58). Informants, however, consistently called these groups "vyama" when they mentioned them to me. [BACK]

6. According to Stroebel, the competitive dancing involving women's groups still continued in the 1970s among women in Mombasa who were not considered waungwana by Twelve Tribes members (1979:181), but I have never succeeded in witnessing it. I was told of the existence of vyama similar to those of Old Town in another section of town among women, including, I was told, the descendants of slaves of Swahili families, whom the Old Town Swahili consider not to be of their group. [BACK]

7. The boys in the sectionally based soccer teams do not seem to be interested in, or even aware of, the sectional differences between teams. The teams are formed according to neighborhood, and these are based on sectional alignment. This lack of explicit intention or awareness, however, does not prevent the long-standing sectional opposition from being reinforced by the competition between the teams since they unite with their teammates and against the opposition regardless of their not using the names "Nine Tribes" or "Three Tribes." [BACK]

8. Gluckman (1963:1-2) makes a concise statement of these dynamics in his BBC lectures:

This is the central theme of my lectures--how men quarrel in terms of certain of their customary allegiances, but are restrained from [community-destroying] violence through other conflicting allegiances which are also enjoined on them by custom. The result is that conflicts in one set of relations, over a wider range of society or through a longer period of time, lead to the re-establishment of social cohesion.

9. The "secret wives" are seemingly rather rare now, but they still exist and are sometimes referred to as suria , "slave wife," as they were when they actually had that status. Informants say that men took some of these wives from among the descendants of their family's slaves, as their fathers and grandfathers had from the slaves

themselves, until just a decade or two ago, and according to some informants, this is still occurring. However, the rising cost of living is making it difficult for most men to support more than one household. In my long experience among the Swahili, I know of only one man who has two wives whom he openly treats as such and who are publicly known to be his wives. In this case, one wife is a Swahili and the other is a member of another ethnic group from which some Swahili slaves came. [BACK]

10. The Swahili value siri, privacy (secrecy is not too strong a word), and are extremely reluctant to discuss even the most prosaic personal matters such as how many children they have or who shares their houses. Faut de mieux much of my information comes from individuals who do not share the value on siri as strongly as the majority do. My only census data come from asking such individuals to tell me who lives in specific houses and how they are related to one another. During the fifteen years I visited the Swahili, I never overcame the general reluctance of most individuals, including some men with whom I maintained friendships of years' duration, to discuss even routine family matters. The sources of this reluctance are examined in chapter 4, but there can be no doubt that it has limited my information, as it will, I am certain, the work of any others who study this community. [BACK]

11. The word "baraza" refers to the benches built into the front of a common style of Swahili house and the gatherings of men that take place, ideally on these benches, on a fairly regular basis--usually between the magharibi (postsunset) and isha (final) prayers. The word baraza in standard Swahili (i.e., as taught in Kenyan schools) refers to the sitting room or reception room of a house and, by extension, to meetings held in such rooms. I wrote a good deal about the "baraza" among the Bena of Tanzania (e.g., Swartz 1966) where the term refers to dispute settlement sessions sometimes held in the reception room of a chief's or headman's house. This latter usage does not apply to the Swahili. [BACK]

12. Until the late 1970s, weddings focused on the bride's virginity and, secondarily, on the groom's potency as demonstrated by bloody sheets brought out by the woman's sexual adviser (a grandmother or a woman descended from family slaves) and exhibited to the multitude with loud beating on a drum (see Swartz 1983). Informants say that this was extremely stressful for the groom and hardly less so for the bride, who had long been told that her wedding night would be the most painful experience of her life. The practice seems to have been abandoned as of the early 1980s. Now couples are married secretly, and the rather modest wedding celebration is held weeks after its consummation when the union is publicly announced. [BACK]

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