Reviews

The article proposes to re-think the model of the Chechen pre-state kinship system as it was put in the influential book by the late Chechen ethnologist Magomet Mamakaev in 1973.  To date, Mamakaev’s idea of ‘clan resistance’ against Russian colonial conquest is reproduced uncritically by most political scientists and some ethnologists in Russia and abroad.  Actually, Mamakaev’s model relies on the out-of-date concept of “savage society” constructed by Lewis Morgan on the example of the Iroquois, and never existed anywhere.  The hypothesis of Mamakaev’s critics, who claimed disappearance of primitive clans during the feudalisation of the Vainakh tribes, completed by the mid-nineteenth century, is divorced from the reality too.  Christian Dettmering argues that the Chechen and the Ingush lived in a society combining clans and territorial entities.  Their basic social unit was the village community.  Tribes were provisional military unions of villages and as such might enter broader political associations ruled by neighbouring Kumyk princes.  The Russian experience of indirect rule among the Vainakh peoples, re-examined by Dettmering through a vast body of nineteenth-century narrative sources, allows to conclude that the colonial empire successfully integrated most non-state clan societies in its North Caucasus frontier, as the French did in North-Western Africa and the British in India.  As a whole, this article is an important contribution to Caucasian studies.  His only weak points are excessive referring to an old-fashioned and misleading notion of “structure” and the scarcity of original sources from the North-East Caucasus (genealogies, chronicles, correspondences, heroic songs) some of which are available in Russian translations from the Arabic, Kumyk and Nakh-Dagestani sources published recently.

Vladimir Bobrovnikov, Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow
CER: I-3.3.B-231