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Blood brotherhood revisited: kinship, relationship, and the body in East and Central Africa

  • Luise White

This article is a reinterpretation of blood brotherhood in three East African societies based on a reading of three ethnographic accounts, Evans-Pritchard on the Azande, Roscoe on the Baganda and Beidelman on the Kaguru. It argues against a construction of blood brotherhood as a single institution with one meaning, suggesting instead that the blood pact should be seen as a mechanism by which men formed ties of filiation with other men, in part on the basis of the kinds of relationships they idealised. In this way, blood was sometimes a magical substance and sometimes a fluid of reproductive power. This article suggests that scholars should look not only at the fluid of the blood pact but also at the part of the body from which blood is taken, in order to see the kinds of relationships men sought to establish with one another. Thus when the blood of blood brotherhood was taken from near the navel, or the chest, it suggested the intimacy of uterine ties, or the closeness of infant and nursing mother. When blood was mediated by cooked meat, it suggested a dilution of the power of blood and its association with the fluids of biological relationship.

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