Okiek - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Lineage, clan, local group, and age set are the main units of Okiek social organization above the household level. Lineages are the most important large-scale social grouping for some Okiek groups; for others, clans play a similar role (see "Kin Groups and Descent"). For Kaplelach and Kipchornwonek Okiek, clans are invoked as a more diffuse mode of relation, for instance to establish a link with a stranger. Clan membership is defined patrilineally. These Okiek lineages often share clan names with Maasai; in some cases, people can also equate the Okiek clans with those of Kipsigis.

The local group is a significant social unit for Okiek in terms of cultural identity and history. Local groups have specific names, such as Kaplelach or Maresionik, but local-group membership is not associated with particular rights or responsibilities. A local group is constituted of six to ten lineages that traditionally held adjacent tracts of land (see "Land Tenure").

Age sets (sing. ipinta ) define relations that crosscut those of lineage, uniting men of different lineages into a cohort of equals. An age set is a named group that includes all men who undergo initiation into adulthood within a specified period of time, usually about fourteen years (although each age set is further divided into two shorter periods, the "right" and "left" sides). Kaplelach and Kipchornwonek age sets share names with those of nearby Maasai, and they can also relate these names to the different age-set names used by Kipsigis. Men of a single age set should treat one another in a brotherly way; they should respect and honor men of senior age sets. Women have no separate, parallel age sets, but they are integrated into male age sets in terms of their male relations. For instance, a woman is known as a wife of her husband's age, a daughter of her father's age, and so forth.

Political Organization. Local political organization parallels social organization for Kipchornwonek and Kaplelach Okiek. Until recently, when a few Okiek individuals became administrative government chiefs, Okiek had no ranked overall offices. When there were political or legal issues to discuss, men from the appropriate groups were called together to meet. These could be meetings of men from one lineage, from several lineages, or men from a large neighborhood area ( latyet ). Women were not part of these meetings. Whereas all adult men have the right to attend and speak at meetings, older men often address the gathering more fully, and they are able to relate precedents and other experience to the issues at hand. When contemporary meetings about national, district, or development matters are held, adult women sometimes attend as well.

Conflict and Social Control. Meetings (see "Political Organization") are also forums in which legal disputes can be heard and resolved. These might concern theft, assault, murder, serious arguments, or (rarely) accusations of witchcraft. Those at the meeting decide cases, fining the person(s) found at fault. Before calling such a large meeting, however, attempts are usually made to settle matters with smaller meetings, within or between the families involved. Late in the 1800s, some quarrels led to lineage feuds and raids; these conflicts usually arose over issues related to land and women. Contemporary Okiek continue to resolve some disputes in local council meetings, but they take others to be heard at governmental offices and courts.


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