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Most disputes within a subtribe are economic in origin, but contested claims and political competition for the control of resources most often emerge in the context of marriage. The central role of marriage becomes clear in the following account of the history and social organization of the Maduzai subtribe. This discussion provides the necessary background for a detailed discussion of the subtribe and patterns of marriage choice.
The history of the Maduzai subtribe
Today the Maduzai subtribe occupies two substantial village settlements known as Chinar and Sinjit, and various smaller scattered hamlets and camps, of which the largest is Naju (see Map 3 and Table 4). The settlements are some fifteen kilometres north of Saripul on tracks to the east of the main dirt road between Shiberghan and Saripul. Officially the whole collection is called Chinar, comprising Upper Chinar, Middle Chinar and Lower Chinar. Maduzai themselves refer to these settlements as Chinar, Sinjit and Naju respectively and I will use these latter names here — not only are they less confusing but they are indicative of divisions within the subtribe which are ignored in the official village names. The Maduzai Khan, Purdil, lives in Chinar and is the official headman of that village and Naju; Sinjit has its own official headman, Hajji Ibrahim.
In general the ethnographic and theoretical treatment of marriage in the Muslim Middle East is extremely uneven, making comparative study of a wide range of topics very difficult. However, as Eickelman (1989) has made a systematic and excellent critique of this corpus of materials, his survey does not need to be repeated here. Rather, in this chapter, I want only to set the scene for the ethnographic inquiry which follows by suggesting that the institution of marriage, with its central place in Middle Eastern societies, must be approached from both structural and interpretive perspectives and that the relation between these perspectives must be addressed in the analysis.
The starting point is a central problem in anthropology: the choice of terms that can be used to analyse different cultures and bring them into a frame in which they can be both explained and compared with each other. The futility of attempting universal definitions is now widely accepted; it is not so much that terms like ‘family’ or ‘religion’ can have only a loose analytical value as ‘polythetic classes’ but that they do not translate any significant categories in many cultures, they have no ‘meaning’ and distort or disregard indigenous categories that do.
The fieldwork on which this study is based began when RLT and I travelled in western Afghan Turkistan for a month in 1968. When we returned to Afghanistan in 1970–1972, our primary aims were ethnographic. The first was to describe a people (the Durrani Pashtun) and an area (western Afghan Turkistan) little known to anthropologists or other scholars (see Map 1). I was keen to examine further the role and organization of women in sexually segregated societies (see N. Tapper 1968; 1978), while RLT was particularly interested in aspects of the pastoral economy and in the forms and contexts of inter-ethnic contact between the Pashtuns and others in the region. The present study reflects our initial intentions, and its focus — the construction and meaning of marriage — has proved one way of uniting our interests in terms of an institution of central concern to the Durrani Pashtuns themselves.
Late in 1970 we travelled overland to Kabul and soon acquired permits to begin a one-month survey in Afghan Turkistan. Our object was to visit sections of the Ishaqzai, who were politically and numerically the dominant Durrani tribe in Jouzjan and Faryab provinces, with a view to finding one group with whom it would be convenient (for us, for them and for the authorities) to settle.
One aim of this chapter is to outline the economic background of Maduzai marriage. The annual productive cycle, the character and amounts of capital resources controlled by households of the subtribe, and employment within the subtribe, will all be discussed, but the principal focus of this chapter is the relationship between marriage and household structure. The two are intrinsically linked, and the ‘household’ might also be defined as all those people who accept the decisions of the household head with regard to their marriages and those of their children and who allow the head to manage the raising of a brideprice or the disposal of a brideprice received. However, since household heads may not face such decisions for years or indeed at all during the period of their leadership, such a criterion is not sufficient for definitional purposes. Nonetheless, decisions about marriage remain the most important opportunity for household members to test the head's continuing dominance, and such decisions frequently become a pretext for household division, while the character of relationships between married members of a single household is viewed by Durrani as the ultimate determinant of household continuity or dispersal. Other factors are also relevant to a discussion of the developmental cycle of Durrani households, especially the number of marriages to be managed and their sequence, in terms of both the intervals between them and the sex of the principals.
The very complexity of Durrani marriage ceremonies sets marriage apart in a culture whose lack of ritual elaboration is otherwise notable. The basic uniformity of the ceremonial procedure also seems to be an expression of the fundamental and monolithic place of marriage in Durrani society. However, though the sequence of rites, ceremonies and prestations is similar for all marriages, these may be elaborated or attenuated for various reasons. Indeed, any marriage may be qualified in ritual terms, and the numerous opportunities for the manipulation of status claims add an important dimension to the meaning of any Durrani marriage. As the Durrani are well aware, the interpretation of such ambiguities is important both to the construction of the affinal relationship and to the standing of the two households in the community as a whole.
Both formal and private ceremonies emphasize an ideal balance and equality between affines, while there are certain areas, especially in feasting and entertainment, where the wife-takers can improve upon their position of inherent superiority and make public statements about their standing in the community as a whole. Opportunities also exist, though on a more limited scale, for the wife-givers to maintain publicly the equality which is also an accepted interpretation of any marriage between Durrani households.
Maduzai conceptions of gender inequality and the inferiority of women are intimately related to their notions of honour and shame and responsibility. Together the system of ideas and practices constitutes a more or less closed ideology of control whose premises are unexamined and whose contradictions and anomalies are unnoticed. To the outsider, the contradictions and anomalies are particularly evident in relation to gender categories and roles.
As we have seen, Maduzai interpretations of honour and shame and Maduzai social identity depend on a precarious balance between two things: first, the unity of Durrani as an ethnic group which shares collective responsibility for maintaining their superiority through endogamy, and second, the ideal of the equality and autonomy of each Durrani household which constantly competes for the control of women as objects of exchange in marriage and as reproductive resources.
Thus, both the Durrani ethnic group as a whole and the Maduzai household are defined explicitly in terms of marriage and the control of women. It follows then that because these areas are central to the construction of Durrani identity and society, women, who have so little autonomy or control over their lives or the resources of the household in which they live, nonetheless have a certain power to subvert the social order.
The western part of Afghan Turkistan, falling within the two provinces of Faryab and Jouzjan, is both fertile and ethnically diverse (see Map 2). Taken together these two features are of crucial importance to an understanding of the Maduzai ethnography which I present here. Maduzai social life takes place against a background of fierce inter-ethnic competition for the control of productive land; in turn, of course, this competition has had a direct effect on Maduzai beliefs and practices, especially those related to gender and the institution of marriage. Thus, as we shall see, among Durrani Pashtuns — including the Maduzai — the control of women's behaviour and their exchange in marriage are perhaps the most important criteria used to define their ethnic identity.
In this respect the geography and the social milieux of Afghan Turkistan are of direct relevance to this study, but as the wider contexts of Durrani ethnicity and other questions of social identity have already been discussed by RLT (1983, 1984b, 1988 and forthcoming a and b) and myself (1979, 1982), my concern here is to describe social identity and ethnicity from the Durrani point of view and to relate these to the ideology and practices of marriage as found within the Maduzai subtribe.