Preferred Citation: Swartz, Marc J. The Way the World Is: Cultural Processes and Social Relations among the Mombasa Swahili. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.

8 Tongues are Spears Shame and Differentiated Conformity

Aibu and Significant Others: Arbiters and Sanctioners

So far, emphasis has been put on the importance of who people think is judging the behavior at issue. It will be clear that if shame is to have social—as opposed to only individual—influence, establishing who one's judges are in various contexts must have a foundation in shared understandings.

My most general hypothesis about this foundation is that actors view themselves as being judged by two different sorts of fellow group members whom I will refer to as "arbiters" and "sanctioners." The arbiters are quite a small collection of individuals in this society. They are individuals of great prestige and of whom impeccable behavior is expected. Their judgments (rarely, if ever, openly made but often imputed to them by others) are given great weight across a wide scope of behavior, and when their judgments and those of nonarbiters are taken to disagree, the arbiters' evaluations are understood as more significant.

The men, and they are all men, I refer to by the term "arbiters" are not recognized as a class or group by community members, but each of them would be identified as being highly respected and as having a great deal of honor (fakhri). I will return to the arbiters after examining the numerically much larger collection of evaluators, the sanctioners.

Everyone in the society is a potential sanctioner. The term, like "arbiter," is coined here for analytical purposes and is not used by the Swahili. It applies to those who are understood as judging an act by those who perform or con-


template the act. The sanctioners for any particular act may well not include all the members of the society, but everyone is understood as a sanctioner by at least some others for some of the things those others do or think of doing.

Different sets of sanctioners may have, and/or be understood to have by the judged, different views of the same behavior depending, in considerable part, on the statuses of the sanctioners and of the judged. Those who are judged often believe they know more or less clearly what views of their behavior different sanctioners are likely to hold. When these views are believed to differ, the judged are usually well aware of the disparity in consequences for themselves deriving from the different judgments.

To take a clear example, consider the practice of taking a "secret wife" (mke msiri ). Adultery (uzinzi ) is a grave sin as the Swahili understand it, but Islam allows polygyny, and some men have wives who their "main wife" knows nothing about. These auxiliary wives are never Swahili, so far as I could determine, but sometimes are from families that were once Swahili slaves. A husband knows quite clearly both that the judgment of his wife and of her kin will be quite different from the judgments of some, at least, of his cronies and that the consequences of these judgments will be quite different. By controlling information, the judged can attempt to have his activity evaluated only by those whose judgments are likely to be favorable to him, and the favorable sanctioners will often not be swayed by the knowledge that other sanctioners take a different view.[2]

The existence of different sets of sanctioners obviously involves the presence within the community of differences in the values, rules, and beliefs held by different group members. Such differences undeniably exist in the Mombasa Swahili community (as we have seen with respect to sexual adventures and as the study of sharing in chap. 5 indicates more broadly), and these are not only differences between individuals. There are also differences between groups or collections of people such as those between men of certain ages, on the one hand, and wives of men of those ages, on the other. These sorts of differences in shared understandings among various categories of community members are important elements in what I am referring to as "the distribution of culture."

8 Tongues are Spears Shame and Differentiated Conformity

Preferred Citation: Swartz, Marc J. The Way the World Is: Cultural Processes and Social Relations among the Mombasa Swahili. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.