In this paper I draw together modern reports on various Sotho-speaking peoples and attempt to indicate the relationship between the political arrangements within each ‘tribe’ and certain aspects of its social system—in particular, patterns of marriage preference and residential alignment.
The richest data and some of the most penetrating analysis is to be found in Schapera's writings on the Tswana, and his Tswana material provides my central case-study. The Kgalagari and the Southern Sotho (Basuto) systems are obviously similar in many ways, although I shall point out some interesting variations. In the second part of the paper I attempt to show that the variables abstracted in the first part are related in only slightly different ways in the superficially divergent systems of the Pedi and the Lovedu, and even in some groups whose organization has been fundamentally disrupted by colonial or settler intervention.
The Sotho-speaking peoples have intrigued many anthropologists particularly because of their preference for marriage with close kin, usually including all cousins, and sometimes even closer relatives. It was with this in mind that Radcliffe-Brown (1950: 69) remarked that the Tswana ‘are decidedly exceptional in Africa, and might almost be regarded as an anomaly’. This is a problem which is central to my analysis, and in order to clear the ground something must be said about marriage strategies in general. Broadly speaking, there are three options, which I will now outline.
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