chapter
Groups and categories
Pages 2

Is ‘descent’ best seen as an empirically-observable characteristic of real groups out there in society, or an emic ideology for making sense of social life? Barnes (1962) argues that despite their superficial similarities to Tallensi-style †segmentary lineages, local groupings in the New Guinea Highlands cannot be understood using theoretical models developed in Africa. Whereas lineage membership is irrevocably determined by birth for a Tallensi man, New Guinea communities are ad hoc groupings round charismatic *Big Men, based on individual choice. Many men do join their fathers’ groups, but the allembracing descent ideology so prevalent in Africa is absent.