Jordan Table of Contents
Women cleaning wool at Samar, northwest of Amman
Courtesy Julie Peteet
A village scene with a mosque in the background
Courtesy Julie Peteet
The principles of organization in settled communities resembled those of the beduins in that villages were organized around kin groups. The resemblance to nomadic groups was closest in the villages of central and southern Jordan. There villagers retained, in somewhat loose form, a tribal form of organization. Most villagers lived in the much more densely settled north, where tribal organization in the late 1980s remained significant only among the recently settled.
In most northern villages, the descendants of a common, relatively distant ancestor formed a hamula (pl., hamail, meaning a clan). The hamula ordinarily had a corporate identity; it often maintained a guesthouse, its members usually resided in a distinguishable quarter or neighborhood, and it acted in concert in village, and often regional, political affairs. The hamula was the repository of family honor and tended to be endogamous. Some villages in the north were dominated by one hamula; that is, everyone in a village belonged to the same descent group. Sometimes several smaller hamail also resided in a village dominated by one large hamula. Other villages were characterized by the presence of several hamail of nearly equal numerical size and importance in village political affairs and landholdings. In some northern regions, a large hamula might have sections in several villages.
Intermediate kin groups existed below the level of the hamula and above that of the household. In many cases, a group of closely related households, descendants of a relative closer than the founder of the hamula, formed entities called lineages (or branches). A still smaller unit was the luzum, a close consultation group, usually composed of several brothers and their families. Father's brothers' sons and their families could be included in or even constitute the luzum. This group had the most significance for everyday life in the village. Members of a hamula, especially those spread over several villages, sometimes saw each other only on occasions such as weddings, births, deaths, religious holidays, or a conflict involving a hamula member. Anthropologist Richard Antoun found the luzum to be the significant unit in a variety of matters in the community he studied; its members were responsible for paying truce money in cases where honor had been violated. This was the group that acted as a support system for the individual in the event of need, providing access to resources such as land, bridewealth, or financial aid in the event of illness or to pay for schooling.
Lineages and luzums varied in size and sometimes overlapped in functions. For example, a large luzum sometimes carried the weight of a smaller lineage in village politics, and it could be difficult to distinguish them. Kin groups, even at the level of lineages, were not homogenous in terms of class; some members could be quite well off and others rather poor. This internal differentiation increased as some members migrated to urban areas or abroad in search of work, entered the army, or sought higher education (see Migration , this ch.)
Social control and politics in the village traditionally grew out of the interactions of kin groups at various levels. Social control over individual behavior was achieved through the process of socialization and a system that imposed sanctions for unacceptable behavior. Such sanctions could range from gossip damaging to one's reputation and that of one's kin, to censure by one's kin group, to penalties imposed by the state for infractions of its criminal codes.
Respected elder males from the various hamail (or lineages if the village were populated predominantly by members of one hamula) provided leadership in villages. They often made decisions by consensus. With the formation and consolidation of the state, traditional leaders lost some power, but they continued in the late 1980s to mediate conflicts, and state officials often turned to them when dealing with village affairs. In cases of conflict in the village, leaders of the appropriate kin sections of groups attempted to mediate the problem through kinship ties. Such leaders were usually elderly men respected for their traditional wisdom and knowledge of customs, or slightly younger, secularly educated men, or persons in intermediate positions between the two. If the conflict escalated or involved violence, the state, through the police and the court system, tended to become involved. The state encouraged recourse to traditional forms of mediation sometimes as an alternative and sometimes as an accompaniment to processing the case through the court system.
The mukhtar, or headman, of a small village linked the villagers with the state bureaucracy, especially if there were no village or municipal council. The mukhtar's duties included the registering of births and deaths, notarizing official papers for villagers, and assisting the police with their investigations in the village. Where there were municipal or village councils, generally in villages with a population of 3,000 or more, the mukhtar had little influence. Instead, the councils--bodies elected by the villagers--allocated government authority and village resources. Young, educated men from influential families, whose fathers may have been traditional leaders in the village, often ran the councils.
As villages increasingly became integrated into the state economic and political system, social stratification grew. Traditionally, large landowners were able to command labor, surplus, and services as well as social deference from less wealthy villagers. However, a variety of village and religious customs eased this apparent class differentiation. Religious teachings and practices, such as the giving of alms and the distribution of gifts at the festival marking the end of Ramadan and at other festival seasons, emphasized the responsibility of the prosperous for the less fortunate (see Religious Life , this ch.). Wealth also implied an obligation to provide a place for men to gather and for visitors to come, in order to maintain the standing of the village as a whole. Events such as weddings were occasions for the wealthy to provide feasts for the whole village.
In the late 1980s, social change had strained village structure and values. The older generation's uncontested control of the economic resources necessary for contracting marriage, participating in politics, and even earning a livelihood had guaranteed their authority. The decline in significance of agriculture as a way of life and the appearance of other opportunities led many younger people into other pursuits. As a result, some "agricultural" villages eventually contained a majority of men engaged in other kinds of work. Earning an income independent of their elders' control and often considerably larger than the older generation could command, such young people were in a position to challenge their elders' authority. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s, the individual still remained enmeshed in a network of family relations and obligations. The young deferred less frequently to their elders in decisions about life choices than had been the custom, but respect for parents and elders remained evident.
Data as of December 1989
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