Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Nature of Entrustment

The Nature of Entrustment: Intimacy, Exchange, and the Sacred in Africa

Parker Shipton
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Nature of Entrustment
    Book Description:

    This groundbreaking book addresses issues of the keenest interest to anthropologists, specialists on Africa, and those concerned with international aid and development. Drawing on extensive research among the Luo people in western Kenya and abroad over many years, Parker Shipton provides an insightful general ethnography. In particular, he focuses closely on nonmonetary forms of exchange and entrustment, moving beyond anthropology's traditional understanding of gifts, loans, and reciprocity. He proposes a new view of the social and symbolic dimensions of economy over the full life course, including transfers between generations. He shows why the enduring cultural values and aspirations of East African people-and others around the world-complicate issues of credit, debt, and compensation.The book examines how the Luo assess obligations to intimates and strangers, including the dead and the not-yet-born. Borrowing, lending, and serial passing along have ritual, religious, and emotional dimensions no less than economic ones, Shipton shows, and insight into these connections demands a broad rethinking of all international aid plans and programs.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15011-7
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Birthplace of humanity it may be. A home of the lion and leopard, the hippo, and the crowned crane it has been for sure. For me though, the area had another appeal when I first decided to venture to the equator to live among people overlooking Africa’s largest lake. There was something mysterious about the map.

    Here was a straight border dividing an ostensibly capitalist Kenya from an ostensibly socialist Tanzania. Or so they were proclaimed in the popular press, and in government policies endlessly repeated in presidential speeches and national development plans. Stretching southeast from the lake, the line,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Fiduciary Culture: A Thread in Anthropological Theory
    (pp. 17-39)

    Fiduciary culture—the culture of trust and entrustment—is only beginning to come into its own as a topic of study, but it has deep roots and noteworthy antecedents. Since well before Herbert Spencer’s and Charles Darwin’s time, and before anthropology came into being as a named discipline, the topic has played a part in debates about the evolution of civilization and about morality in economic life. Three questions have recurred in the debates, springing up in different guises and in various disciplines. One is whether barter, cash sale, and credit constitute any kind of evolutionary sequence, one built on...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Luo and Their Livelihood: The Great Lake Basin and Beyond
    (pp. 40-80)

    There are ways the Luo people could be called a microcosm of middle Africa, with its contradictions and subtle compromises. Most live inland, landlocked, like most of that great continent; but with the lake down the hill, and a city connected by road, rail, and an airport, some do have ways to come and go. Luo country, like Africa, defies generalization on ethnic purity or mixture. Situated in a part of the continent where they and other ethnolinguistic groups tend to live in rather solid, separate blocks on the map, the lakeside homeland of present-day Luo does yet contain a...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER 4 Entrustment Incarnate: Humans and Animals over Years and Generations
    (pp. 81-98)

    Who belongs where, and among whom, is a complex question in East Africa, even for babies and young children. In this chapter we begin to look into the movement and sharing of living, breathing beings: transfers and counter-transfers of humans and animals over time. These are loans in a sense, but seldom just that; here one enters a zone where economic terms like loans or debts become hard to apply, or seem too simplistic, on their own, but where entrustment and obligation are no less vital. Exchanges of sentient beings as described here are notmerely contracts entered into by individuals...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Teaming Up: Borrowing, Lending, and Getting By
    (pp. 99-119)

    Getting by in an equatorial African community involves more than a little give and take. But much of the giving and taking is done in expectation of something to be done later: giving something back or somehow passing something along. This chapter describes some of the smaller-scale, shorter-term borrowing and lending that goes on among relatives and neighbors—learned, practiced, and manipulated from childhood on—in the countryside where Luo and other neighboring people live in western Kenya. Human and animal labor, farmtools, food, and money all partake of this fiduciary life.

    These things all differ in kind, and each...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Marriage on the Installment Plan: The Present and the Promised
    (pp. 120-157)

    Marriage in equatorial Africa is not just something that happens in an hour. It is a protracted process that can take longer than a lifetime, and one can be more married or less, depending on where one is in the process. A critical part of that process, traditionally, has been the conveyance of marriage dues, or bridewealth, going mainly from the groom to the bride’s kin.¹ This not only takes time, typically, but also directly or indirectly involves many people. There is enough back-and-forth in the process so that both a bride’s and groom’s kin must take turns playing host...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Debts in Life and Death: Shared Responsibility and the Funerary Flow
    (pp. 158-172)

    It has sometimes been observed that the living and the dead in tropical Africa are more present in each other’s daily “lives” than in some other parts of the world. Ancestors, that is, are in a sense deemed not truly dead or gone; they have just changed form or been released from bodily attachment. In doing so they may not have lost power but gained it. Their spirits are seen to have needs, wants, and moods of their own, and ways of demanding attention. But they serve as guardians not only of custom and tradition but also of morality—of...

  13. CHAPTER 8 In the Passing: Inheritance of Things and Persons
    (pp. 173-186)

    Inheritance provides a window into some big ideas. Who passes what to whom communicates messages about relative worth, not just of “property” but also of people, and of the bonds between them. It illustrates disparities in the way the sexes and ages are trusted and treated and makes concrete a people’s ideas about the importance of the dead and unborn in the lives of the living. Looked at over generations, inheritance is serial entrustment. Of what we receive, we pass along.

    In Africa and elsewhere there are societies, notably ones that rely heavily on mobile foraging, where inheritance is altogether...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Blood, Fire, and Word: Luo, Christian, and Luo-Christian Sacrifice
    (pp. 187-204)

    Perhaps no human action commands more fascination, or is surrounded by more mystery, than sacrifice. Few things occasion such high emotion, so much suspicion and misgiving. What one considers the highway to divinity, and a lifeline to what is real or eternal, another considers a sullying sacrilege or a proof of superstition. What one deems a calculated gamble, an investment, or insurance, another sees as an escape from all worldly concerns. What one thinks of as a chance to eat some meat for a change, another perceives as an abuse of animal, maybe human, rights. But real people often express...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Conclusion: Entrustment and Obligation
    (pp. 205-222)

    In these pages I have sought to describe a part of life that matters to people everywhere, and a part of Africa where it takes some distinctive forms. The basin of Africa’s largest lake is not a place without access to credit and debt. Nor is it a land without deeper, broader experience of entrustment and obligation. The complex and subtle fiduciary culture already in operation, adapting in its own directions its rich mix of the old and new, and of the indigenous and exogenous—is a product of long experience and continuing ingenuity in Luo and East African culture....

  16. Notes
    (pp. 223-248)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 249-252)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-270)
  19. Index
    (pp. 271-281)