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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Secret knowledge as property and power in Kpelle society: elders versus youth
Author:Murphy, William P.ISNI
Periodical:Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
Geographic term:Liberia
secret societies
External links:https://www.jstor.org/stable/1159011
Abstract:Most scholars have analysed West African secret societies in terms of educational or cross-cutting functions. Some have noted the hierarchical structure supported by the elders' control of secret knowledge but have tended to view the elders' authority as used simply in service of the community. In contrast, the present author argues that Kpelle secret societies serve the secular authority (rather than balancing or checking this authority), accentuate lineage differences, and contribute to a social system whose primary benefits from youth's labour are secured by the elders of the ruling lineage in a chiefdom. The elders' claim to privileged knowledge is a crucial tool of social control, and the content of a secret is often reletively insignificant compared to the rights, obligations and privileges generated by the fact of secrecy. The paper is based on fieldwork among the Kpelle of Liberia carried out in 1973-74. Notes, ref., French sum.