Abisi organization is very complex because of the multiple choices open to individuals after their obligatory marriage.
How does it work in Abisi theory and reality?
Abisi theory can be summarized by drawing a graphical model of what they think and reality, can be studied by looking at the reasons they may have found useful to maintain their marriages rules for so many years before changes brought from outside could integrate their cultural history.
Abisi Exogamous Rules
The first marriage rules determine who not to marry.
The basic rule is incest prohibition which forbids persons to mate if they are close kin like a father, mother, brother, sister, child or some cousins.
The second set of rules is called “exogamous” rules which determine the group out of which a person must choose a spouse.
Exo meaning outside and “gamous” meaning mating or marrying.
Other rules called “endogamous” defines the right to take spouses inside one’s own group.
Abisi as a whole is strongly endogamous for their girl’s marriage ( they must marry Abisi men) but exogamy is open for men taking foreign wives.
But the first exogamous rule was instituted when the early uyikut of Agiram said they were like the mingled trunk of their emblematic tree and became/ ut∫inak/, brothers and sisters so they had from then on, to find their spouses outside their own section.
This statement made the basic exogamous rule the same as if it was an incest taboo between siblings even if they were not, all families coming from different places.
By adopting this rule, they gave to their idjin section organization, the function of a wife taking and giving group which was not based on descent groups sometimes called “clans”. A clan being the descendants of the same ancestor real or supposed to be.
Since at that time, there were only the Agiram and the Ekantin, they started to marry to each other. This is why the marriage season of riner and kiso always start by these section chiefs’ patriline before the others can do their own.
Abisi Ideal Model
If we look from afar the way Abisi marriage was thought in the past, we can draw a graphical image , a model, of their ideal organization.
Dotted lines represent “girl marriages: ( riner, kiso, or tiyikirat) and solid lines “wives marriages” ( kpe).
Abisi matrimonial rules constrain abisi sections to total exogamy and each woman could marry three men from three different sections and enable her, in addition, to marry again in another section.
With the foundation of new settlements, the exogamous rules prohibiting all inside section marriages were applied. This implies that with their five sections and four exogamous marriages, Abisi could practically tie the whole society into one network of kin.
Looking at the graph, a girl from section A could, in theory, have husbands coming from sections B, C, D as her girl marriages and another one from E as a women marriage.
Other girls from other sections could also marry in the same fashion. Each girl and woman marriages could create a complex network of social ties reinforcing the cohesion of the whole of Abisi.
Abisi Practical Model
In 1973, this system had been reorganized to admit endogamy, inside marriages, in some sections for one of the “girl marriages”.
Some endogamy was admitted between patrilines of the same section. They remained totally exogamous, no marriages took place inside patrilines ( proven in my survey) but members could marry in other ones of the same section.
The Igallik and the Emagan sections remained exogamous but Ekantin divided into five wives giving groups, marrying each other’s daughters.
The Nigertin and the Agiram section were divided into two and three exchanging patrilineages.
In my survey and despite these changes, the cardinal rule forbidding a woman to marry more than one husband per section was maintained.
The “section” organization stood as a central principle of social organization.
Comparable Marriage System
Abisi were not the only ones to use the organizing principle of combining both men and women polygamy.
Many other people also did use all kinds of polyandrous marriage rule variations.
If we use GM for girls marriage and WM for women marriages, we could draw multiple graphs of exogamous and endogamous rules between sections.
Some had GM inside sections and WM outside or GM inside and outside and WM exclusively outside. Others were divided into two parts A and B called “moieties” with GM between them and WM in the same “moieties”.
These systems existed among Rukuba, Irigwe, Katab, Kagoro, Kaje, Kadara,Moroa, Kacichere, Chawai, Amo and others. It even extended outside of Nigeria, in northern Cameroon for example.
Many other groups did not have polyandry but were deeply influenced by their neighbor’s ideas.
Anaguta for example had complete freedom for premarital sexual relations which was comparable to GM or the Birom who had a similar network of lovers.
Abisi were not an exception but part of a larger sociological experiment with human possibilities.
Abisi “reality check” on marriage use
These common cultural ideas were adapted to each population needs .
We saw how Abisi used them to integrate their society and for economic management.
Bridewealth and bride services acted as a distribution mechanism.
Without these material exchanges, a girl’s parents may have thought that it would have been preferable to have sons to help them on their farm. These ideas often lead to discrimination against girls in some other places but in Abisi, a married girl was worth many men workdays.
The Abisi had, in effect, devised a system in which parents could tap into the services of not just one but of several suitors of each of their daughters.
The strongest objections raised against the abolition of the plural marriages was that it would impoverish the girl’s family.
With this help, families with daughters would not be deprived of men work as it is in other places where a man is worth more than a woman!
Intermediate Generation between Elders and Juniors
In agriculture, every generation depends on the former to pass thru the critical lean period. At the elders level, it is the ancestors that hold the time line since the origin of the community.
In some African societies, this process brought into place critical generation relations, between Elders and Junior men. Elders could control Juniors through their exclusive management and limit their rights to marriages.
Abisi ways were completely different, the polyandrous marriage system assured that each man could be polygynous and get at least two wives. The total number varying from individuals.
In 1973, twelve percent of men had one wife at home, thirty-three percent had two and another thirty-three percent had three wives. Approximately five percent of men had four wives and there was about six percent of men with no wives at all. The mean number of wives living with a man at one time was 1.71 women per men.
The “rate of polygyny” increased as the men got older and reached its maximum when they were around 40-45 years old .
Their social and economic status are between on the one hand the Juniors and their youth organization and the other hand, the Seniors of their fathers’ generation.
This period of their life is free of workgroup obligations and they can use all their time to look after their own affairs and fill their own granary. Finally, if they had one or more daughters born of early marriages, they will start benefiting the work groups due for their marriages.
This accumulation of wealth could make them more attractive to a woman than younger men who are still working with their peer groups. They were in a good economic position to persuade women to marry them.
At first glance, Abisi’s system appears to give much freedom and many advantages to young men. They gain two or three wives when they are relatively young.
However, these wives may or may not stay with them.
Since young wives also have two or three husbands, the possibility of the young man retaining all three wives is very remote.
The system truly seems to benefit men in their forties. Such men are able to recoup at least some of their wives and gain other wives given to their juniors.
By the time they are forty, nearly half of the women have settled down with their love husbands, the spouse of their own choosing who belongs to the intermediate generation.
Many women recognize the advantages of having a financially independent husband, one who is in charge of his own affairs and is better able to care for her.
The existence of this intermediate generation between Youth and Elders who benefit from the marriage system gave Abisi much more flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances than those societies where young men had to revolt against their elders.