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Raymond T. Smith

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Introduction to the Internet Edition of The Negro Family in British Guiana, plus original front-matter, Contents, Foreword, & Acknowledgments.

Early in 1999 I wrote to Routledge asking permission to publish this book on the University of Chicago, Department of Anthropology Web Site and to add various comments and annotations referring to work that has been done since the book was originally published in 1956.  I knew that it had been reprinted once, in 1965, but assumed that it had been out of print since then.  To my surprise the Publishing Director of Routledge, Peter Sowden, wrote to say that the whole set of the International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, founded by Karl Mannheim, had been reprinted in 1998 mainly to accommodate the many new university libraries opened since the series was discontinued.  The book is still available for purchase as an individual volume even though the publishers expect that most sales will be as complete sets.

In spite of this, Routledge graciously permitted me to go ahead with the electronic publication of the volume in the manner that I had suggested, and I now take this opportunity to thank them.  The full reference to the original publication and to the current reprint is as follows:

Raymond T. Smith 1956.  The Negro Family in British Guiana: Family Structure and Social Status in the Villages.  (With a Foreword by Meyer Fortes).  London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited.  New York: Grove Press, Inc., in association with Institute of Social & Economic Research, University College of the West Indies, Jamaica.  International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction.  Reprinted by Routledge January 1998, ISBN 0415175763.

Although I have attempted to retain as much of the original format as possible, and have not altered the text in spite of the temptation to remove its often infelicitous style, I have taken advantage of modern word-processing to make the footnotes and references more easily available, and have improved the illustrations and tables wherever possible without changing them.  The text can be read just as it was originally published.   However, I have added (or will eventually) numerous hyperlinks to additional discussions of the original text and to new material that was collected subsequent to the field research on which the book was based.  Comments, discussions and hyperlinks to relevant sites where additional discussions are to be found have been consolidated into a separate page labelled COMMENTS and accessible for browsing through the header to this page.

The original text begins below.

 

 

INTERNATIONAL LIBRARY OF SOCIOLOGY

AND SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTION

 

Founded by Karl Mannheim

Editor: W.  J.  H.  Sprott

  

The Negro Family in British Guiana

FAMILY STRUCTURE AND SOCIAL STATUS IN THE VILLAGES

 

BY

RAYMOND T.  SMITH

 

WITH A FOREWORD BY

MEYER FORTES

 

 

 

Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited, London

Grove Press Inc., New York

in association with

 Institute of Social & Economic Research

University College of the West Indies

Jamaica

 

First published in 1956

by Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited

Broadway House, Carter Lane, E.C.4

Reprinted 1965, 1998

Printed in Great Britain

by W.   & J.  Mackay & Co., Ltd., Chatham

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

FOREWORD             BY MEYER FORTES   

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS   

SECTION I

Chapter

I                 INTRODUCTION

SECTION II

II               THE HOUSEHOLD

III              ECONOMIC FEATURES OF THE HOUSEHOLD GROUP

IV              COMPOSITION OF THE HOUSEHOLD GROUP

V               THE TIME FACTOR IN RELATION TO THE STRUCTURE

OF THE HOUSEHOLD GROUP

VI              THE NORMS OF DOMESTIC GROUPING

VII             THE KINSHIP SYSTEM AND MARRIAGE

SECTION III

VIII           THE FAMILY SYSTEM IN THE CONTEXT OF

            GUIANESE SOCIETY

IX              HYPOTHESES AND THE PROBLEM OF EXPLANATION

X               CONCLUSION

BIBLIOGRAPHY

INDEX

 

TABLES

 I                     LIST OF PRINCIPAL OCCUPATIONS

II                     AGE AND SEX OF ADULT POPULATION

III                   AGE DISTRIBUTION OP MALE HOUSEHOLD HEADS

IV                    AGE DISTRIBUTION OF FEMALE HOUSEHOLD HEADS

V                     AGE AND SEX OF ADULT POPULATION

VI                    SEX RATIOS OF HOUSEHOLD HEADS

VII                  SEX RATIOS OF ADULT POPULATION

VIII                 RELATIONSHIP OF MEMBERS TO MALE HEADS OF HOUSEHOLDS

VIIIa               RELATIONSHIP OF MEMBERS TO MALE HEADS OF HOUSEHOLDS

IX                    RELATIONSHIP OF MEMBERS TO FEMALE HEADS OF HOUSEHOLDS

IXa                  RELATIONSHIP OF MEMBERS TO FEMALE HEADS OF HOUSEHOLDS

X to XV (incl.)   DISTRIBUTION OF POPULATION BY AGE AND CONJUGAL CONDITION

XVI                  COMPARISON OF NUMBERS OF ENDOGAMOUS AND EXOGAMOUS UNIONS

XVII                EXOGAMOUS UNIONS WHERE PARTNER IS FROM THE SAME DISTRICT

XVIII               SELECTION OF A CONJUGAL PARTNER

XIX                  PROPORTION OF VARIOUS RACES IN BRITISH GUIANA

 

ILLUSTRATIONS

Plate

I     a.            HOUSE YARDS

      b.            EAST INDIAN VENDORS AT THE VILLAGE MARKET

II     a.            HOUSE BUILDING—STAGE I

      b.            HOUSE BUILDING—STAGE 2

III   a.            A VILLAGE WEDDING

      b.            POUNDING PADI FOR DOMESTIC CONSUMPTION

IV   a.            A RICE PLOUGH

      b.            THRESHING PADI

V     a.           COOKING ARRANGEMENTS

       b.           BOYS CARRYING FOOD TO THE RICE FIELDS DURING THE HARVEST SEASON

VI    a.           THE VILLAGE OFFICE

       b.           CLEANING THE MAIN DRAINAGE TRENCH

VII   a.           VILLAGE STRING BAND

       b.           APPRENTICES WORKING IN THE BLACKSMITH’S SHOP

VIII  a.           MENDING A SEINE OF THE TYPE USED FOR FISHING IN THE DRAINAGE

                             TRENCHES

        b.          DRUMMERS PLAYING FOR A ‘CUMFA’ DANCE

 

FIGURES

Fig.  I.             SIMPLIFIED DIAGRAM OF A VILLAGE DRAINAGE SYSTEM

 

MAPS

I.    N.E.  SECTION OF BRITISH GUIANA

2.   SKETCH MAP OF AUGUST TOWN LANDS

3.   PLAN OF AUGUST TOWN SHOWING HOUSE LOTS, ETC.

4.   SKETCH PLAN OF AUGUST TOWN SHOWING LAYOUT OF VILLAGE,  HOUSES, AND  SHOPS

 

FOREWORD

MEYER FORTES

William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology

in the University of Cambridge

 

It has been my privilege to watch the growth of Dr. Smith’s book from the time when it was only an aspiration for a field study to its final fledging.   It has been an exciting experience.   Following modern anthropological tradition, Dr. Smith has welded field observation and theory into a unitary argument.  He has done it with the skill and economy of an old hand; so much so that his scrupulous checking of each step in the theoretical analysis against the detail of field observation may easily escape the reader. I stress this because Dr. Smith’s manner is so self-effacing, his exposition so close-knit, and his main hypothesis so obviously right once it has been stated, that the quality of the field work behind the book may simply be taken for granted.    But it is the quality of the field work that, in the end, distinguishes the best from the merely good monograph in social anthropology; and this best calls for special acumen and insight, and for the ability to share the feelings and ideas of one’s hosts without sacrificing discipline and detachment.

These capabilities can only be encouraged, never taught, in the classroom.  They come out in the telling detail, reported almost by the way rather than in the set piece on a conventional topic.  Dr. Smith makes shrewd use of such telling detail.  An instance is the description of the ambiguous attitudes of a child brought up by its grandmother when its own mother is also a dependent of the grandmother.   It makes us see in a flash why Dr. Smith’s analysis of the ‘matrifocal’ household from the angle of its child-rearing and economic functions, and not from the more usual side of the legal and moral notions of family and marriage, is so illuminating.

Even more effective is Dr. Smith’s use of numerical data.   His central theme is the Guianese Negro family.  As is well known, there is no topic in the whole range of the social sciences that has been so much written about as the family systems of mankind.  But a large part, if not most, of this voluminous literature is useless for scholarly purposes.  Some of the best work on family systems is due to anthropologists; but, alas, it is too often marred by lack of rigour in investigation and by the fatal facility of generalization that goes with the narrative form of presentation.   And strangely enough the deficiencies are most glaring with regard to an aspect of family structure that would seem, to common sense, to be particularly important.  I mean the fact that every family in every society, no matter what its specific institutional form may be, has a life-cycle.  For us this life-cycle of the family begins with the marriage of the founding parents, goes on through the different stages of child rearing and the dispersion of the children as they go out into the world and marry, and ends with the death of the parents.  To ignore this process of development in family structure is surely to misunderstand its essential character.

This is Dr. Smith’s starting-point and it is in elucidating its implications that he makes brilliant use of his numerical data.  To be sure, this method is unorthodox in social anthropology.   It is time consuming and tedious and it gives small scope for the purple passage.  But it pays handsomely, at any rate in Dr. Smith’s hands.  It enables him to show that where others have seen only a confusing medley of family ‘types’ there is in reality a definite developmental sequence related to a few clear principles of conjugal and parental relationship.

These principles have been the subject of much discussion among social anthropologists.  They have been shown to account for common features of family and kinship institutions in a wide range of societies.  But there are still many unsolved problems connected with their nature and their modes of operation.   One of these, and a fundamental one for the theory of family structure, is the question of what the French anthropologist Claude LÚvi-Strauss calls ‘elementary structure’.  The question might be put in the form: Is there a minimal unit of social organization capable of fulfilling the functions of ensuring physical and social reproduction in a society?  Or, to put it in other words, is there a limiting point of family organization beyond which social reproduction in man is indistinguishable from species reproduction in animals?  The chimerical stage of ‘primitive promiscuity’ assumed by nineteenth-century anthropologists and still believed in by scholars who get their anthropology from ‘The Golden Bough’ or Engels, would have been such a limit.   It has never been found in any known human society and it is futile to search for it.  By contrast, we can ask relevantly whether or not there is in all human societies something like an elementary ‘cell’ of family organization susceptible of empirical identification and irreducibly necessary for the process of social reproduction.

It so happens that the West Indies offer the social scientist a unique historical situation for studying the fundamental problems of the comparative sociology of the family, and students of West Indian family organization have been aware of this, as Dr. Smith shows in his survey of their work.  But Dr. Smith’s book puts the study of the West Indian family system on quite a new basis.  The result is both a deeper understanding of the West Indian facts and a major contribution to the theory of ‘elementary’ family structure.

Dr. Smith achieves this by asking questions and following procedures that only a social anthropologist—and perhaps only one trained in the contemporary so-called British School of social anthropology—would think of.  He shows that the question whether marital unions are proper or improper, legal or casual, and its legalistic corollary as to whether the children are legitimate or illegitimate, is a secondary one.  The primary issue is the social relationship of filiation in which parents fulfil the tasks of upbringing and of endowing offspring with their place in society and their claims upon society.  This relationship is basic to the Guianese Negro family as to every other type of family; and its ‘elementary structure’ is the unit of mother and child.  But this unit, Dr. Smith demonstrates, has a developmental cycle through time in relation first to its domestic context and the local community, and secondly to the total social system of the country.  And this is where the husband father fits.  He is the licit procreator (for pace the moralists who are so ready to see promiscuity in West Indian conjugal customs, a strict incest taboo is observed) and also the ‘provider’ who links the domestic group with the economy of the total society.  The ‘matrifocal’ unit is stable; instability in the conjugal relationship is a result of the male’s productive and social roles in the total society.  In the undifferentiated economy of the Guianese Negro village, the male earner is forced to go out to work for wages and this contributes to the instability of the marital bond.

I have given this very bare outline of Dr. Smith’s main theme so as to indicate how he approaches his task.  There is a naive belief in some quarters that the distinguishing mark of social anthropology, as opposed to other social sciences, is that it deals with small ‘face-to-face' communities.  Dr. Smith shows the fallacy of this.  He makes it clear that what distinguishes his approach as a social anthropologist is the method of considering every institution in the setting of the total social system.  So he drives home the fact that a Guianese village is not a closed and isolated community.  Its relationship to the total society affects the most intimate area of social life, the domestic group.   But there is a limiting point to this influence.  The nuclear unit of mother and child holds out against all external forces until the cycle of child rearing is finished.  Dr. Smith thus confirms recent anthropological studies which bring out the central place of the mother-child unit in all family systems.  But his observations have wider implications.  In the past few years there has been a concentration of interest from many angles on the relationship of mother and child.  The World Health Organization has held conferences on this subject and has published a book (Dr. J.  Bowlby, Maternal Care and Mental Health, 1951) which has stimulated wide appreciation of the critical importance of the mother-child relationship for mental health.  Dr. Smith’s data will, I believe, throw valuable light on this problem as it emerges in the West Indies.

Dr. Smith’s inquiry brings in many other aspects of the social and economic structure of British Guiana, but I should be trespassing too far on the reader’s patience if I commented on them too.   I must content myself with noting how the social differences between the three villages he studied and between different classes and races are most skilfully elucidated so as to throw his main argument into relief and to provide cumulative checks on his hypotheses.

I have said that I regard Dr. Smith’s book as a major contribution to social science.  I want to say this again.  It was in order to have a privileged opening for putting this on record that I gladly agreed to write this Foreword.  Dr. Smith’s book is also a notable addition to the regional sociology of the West Indies, and I am sure its many practical applications will be quickly seen by public and private agencies concerned with family welfare in the West Indies.

Dr. Smith’s book is, I believe, the first major publication of the Institute of Social and Economic Research of the University College of the West Indies.   It is a beginning full of promise.  It shows how fruitful it is to turn a young scholar on to a difficult topical issue of modern social life and give him the freedom to tackle it as a task of fundamental research and to write about it in a dispassionate, scientific spirit.

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

The production of a book such as this necessarily involves the co-operation of a great number of persons and agencies, and it would be impossible to name them all here.  I am particularly indebted to the Colonial Social Science Research Council for the generous grant which made possible the field work and the writing of the first draft of the book.  Also to Trinity College, Cambridge, for the honour of electing me to the William Wyse Studentship in Social Anthropology.  The University College of the West Indies extended the most cordial hospitality when I was in the West Indies, and the final draft of the book was written whilst I was a member of the staff of the Institute of Social and Economic Research there.

As one of Professor Meyer Fortes’s first post-graduate students at Cambridge I learned from him the discipline of research, and his influence and teaching are apparent throughout this work.  I am also grateful to Professor Talcott Parsons for his sympathetic interest whilst he was teaching at Cambridge in 1953–4, and for reading the manuscript and making many useful suggestions.  With Dr. J. R. Goody I discussed most of the work whilst we were contemporaries at Cambridge.  Professor David Schneider of Harvard University very generously read the initial draft of the book and gave me the benefit of his most constructive criticism.

When I first arrived in the West Indies I was fortunate enough to receive a stimulating and authoritative introduction to their problems and peculiarities from many persons at the University College in Jamaica, and to Mr. Lloyd Braithwaite and Dr. Elsa Goveia in particular I should like to offer my sincere appreciation of their friendship and guidance, then and subsequently.  Also to Dr. Huggins for so generously placing the facilities of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at my disposal, long before I became a member of its staff.

In British Guiana I was given willing help and invaluable co-operation by hundreds of persons both in government service and outside.  The Commissioner of Local Government, the Social Welfare Officer, and their staffs, were always ready to go out of their way to facilitate my work.   To the Department of Lands and Mines, I am particularly grateful for their help with maps and information on the villages, and to the Economics Division of the Department of Agriculture for their co-operation and advice.

In the rural areas I did not meet more than two or three people who were not always ready to offer me their hospitality, their assistance and the benefit of their knowledge.  I cannot name all the schoolteachers, civil servants, businessmen, doctors, policemen, lawyers, farmers and so on who were my friends and who helped the study in one way or another, but I should particularly like to thank my friend Dr. Frank Williams and his wife for the many pleasant hours I spent in their home in Berbice.

To the people of the three villages described in this book my debt is greatest of all, for they not only welcomed me into their homes and allowed me to pry into the most intimate details of their personal and community life, but they really allowed me to feel that I ‘belonged’ in their midst and was not merely an intruder.  Whatever merits this book may have is a testament to their friendship and trust.  In order to avoid them any embarrassment I have invented fictitious names and made individual identification impossible.

To my wife, who not only helped me in the field, but also typed the first draft of the manuscript and pointed out many of my errors, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude.

Any deficiencies this book may have are entirely my own responsibility, and the views or conclusions stated herein are not to be attributed to any of the persons or agencies mentioned above.

 

Mona, Jamaica.                                                                                   RAYMOND T. SMITH

20th  December 1955.

 

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