Generation and Ages
During my first week in Abisi, I visited groups of people gathered at ceremonies. In general, they assigned me a place among the older men settled under a tree and sharing beer.
One day, I decided to shave the beard I wore for many years.
When I had the opportunity to sit down with older men they told me I was much younger than they thought.
I was a Ayira, a young man so I had to sit with people of my generation.
I learned that, in Abisi, “the most important thing is age” and that only seniors (uyikirat: the deans) could wear a beard, a symbol of Elders’ status.
It was also the opportunity to ask me humorously if I intended to pull their beard as did the colonial officers who left the unpleasant memory of the lack of respect for age.
It was perhaps the most shameful image of colonialism that could be remembered.
In another context, a friend in love with a girl, came to ask me for financial assistance in order to convince her parents. He wanted to give them some money because he could not arrange any bride services to compensate for her.
His father had placed him at a young age in a foreign family outside Abisi.
Unable to participate in his teens and most of his twenties to various work groups with his age class, he could not receive mutual help.
He was considered a boy who “came late” that is to say, in his late twenties, already with a little beard which devalued him compared to younger men courting the same girl.
These examples show that Abisi distinguishes different age categories.
Seniors and Juniors
Men over 50 years old constitute a senior social category.
They share a similar position in economic production: they do not handle the hoe but control the crop selection, the cooperation of workers and product management. When they decide to leave these responsibilities to a younger man, brother or son, they act as Elders consulted about administrative and ceremonial activities.
The Junior generation includes young single or married men from 12 to 35 years old that are the /ayira/ category.
Men aged 35 to 50 years old are in an intermediary position between the Seniors and Juniors, elders and youth, they are fathers and head of domestic groups either in association with their father or their brothers.
Division of labor and Age groups
Around the age of eight years old, young boys get varying sizes hoes according to their strength.
They sometimes participate, if they wish, in various trials of agricultural task: improve furrows, contribute to hoeing or weeding, harvesting.
But around the age of 12 and up to about 30 to 35 years, young people participate by age categories in work groups.
These age classes are “men born the same year” climb up the age grade ladder after a determined period of three, five or seven years.
These graded steps in the life cycle of men had economic functions.
Technically, they are distinguished both by their level of productivity and their roles in the labor process.
The three younger age grade are mainly composed of laborers whose competence varies depending on skill and experience.
The amigaŋ or emigaŋ are young people aged 12 to 15 who handle the hoe very quickly at the beginning of the task but tire quickly and often stop to rest (some for up to 10 minutes).
The next grade, atenkia aberje (futur berje) works less quickly than the first group but are more regular and are steadier, they do not need to rest often.
The next one is the most important, the /berje/ are distinguished laborers from 18 to 25 years, kinds of “hero of the hoe.”
They are at the moment of their lives when their strength and performance are maximal.
The adamaba, aged 25 to 30 years, work less hard than the berje; they often stop and make endless jokes, creating a relax atmosphere.
Finally, the abiko who are between 30 and 35 years, do not really hoe but come to coordinate the work of other young men that they lead by playing drums accompanied by choir girls.
Their function as overseers has to be very reliable :
“An Abiko who did not play the drum well had to pay for his replacement by another.”
From Age-Group to Generation
The main function of age-group is to mobilize workers for agricultural work.
A young man was not really free to manage his own economic life until he got out of age groups, around 30 years old.
His new autonomy allows him to work more on his own.
Accessing to a new generation of house head, a man obviously has a better economic and productive potential than when he was younger.
Since everybody had to pass thru the age-groups, the younger generation was not spoiled of its work since they would gradually become a member of the middle generation of fathers with sons and daughters and, if they take care, of the senior generation.
Moreover, as it will be shown later, much of this work gave them access to marriages being organized for bride services.