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ABSTRACT

‘Household’ is not the neutral, universal category that census-takers have lulled us into believing, but a culturally-loaded, historically specific, Western term, like ‘family’. This article demonstrates its inappropriateness in capturing the nature of domestic organization in Swaziland through a critical examination of attempts to reduce the indigenous domestic unit umuti (rural homestead) to various constellations of household. The patrilineal homestead on traditionally tenured land persists as the dominant domestic group despite urbanization and the deep penetration of the economy by market principles. The relationship between this homestead and the more ephemeral urban households, into which many of its members are continually dispersed, underlies the linkage between urban and rural areas. Without grounding our understanding of contemporary Swazi society in the rural homestead we fail to understand female-headed domestic groups, domestic cycles, and the location and dynamics of poverty and wealth.