Author:Paul Clough (University of Malta)
Paper short abstract:
In Nigerian rural Hausaland, building a polygynous household is the central goal of social life. Polygyny is the paramount value. The expansion of the market has not caused the erosion of the ‘base’ (Gudeman 2008) of household provision. The market has been essential to household expansion.
Paper long abstract:
In central Hausaland, Nigeria, gida (literally, house) is at once a socio-spatial and a moral category, for the mai gida (owner or controller of the house, ie., household head) is responsible for the feeding, marriages and tax payments of all household members. Because the attainment of a stable and expanding polygynous household is the central value of social life, the responsibilities of the household head are onerous. Men evaluate each other's character (hali) in terms of their success in fulfilling hidima (literally, responsibility) in securing and expanding the polygnous household in its relations with other households. Drawing on case studies of accumulators in my Morality and Economic Growth in Rural West Africa (2014), I argue that while capital accumulation is strenuously pursued, it serves household or polygynous accumulation. Even the crucial relationship of economic patronage draws its inspiration from polygyny, because the value placed on polygyny engenders a peculiarly extraverted sense of obligation to trading friends (abokanan ciniki) outside the household. Although central Hausaland has been deeply inserted into world markets for a century, commodification has served to expand polygynous households. I place my approach to the market in conversation with Stephen Gudeman's Economy's Tension. Gudeman argues that the market necessarily erodes the 'mutual base' of household provision, because calculative reason is both individualizing and profit-oriented. By contrast, in Hausaland, because polygyny is the 'paramount value' (Dumont 1977), fine-tuned monetary calculation preserves mutuality inside the household and between households, and prevents them from becoming a source of individualization.
Oikos: households, markets and nation