Makassar - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The most important aspect of social organization is the subtle differentiation of social rank. Makassar society is divided into nobility, commoners, and (formerly) slaves. Each of these strata is internally differentiated, with every individual ranked on a continuous social scale. A person's rank is primarily determined by that of his or her ascendants. Since descent is traced bilaterally, the definition of a person's rank depends on the different levels of rank that have been transmitted through either male or female individuals in the ramages of which he or she is a member. Marriage provides the main means for upward mobility, but low descent rank may also be compensated for by bravery, religious or secret knowledge, education, wealth, polite behavior, and (recently) occupation. Hence the boundaries between the main strata and between the various substrata are not as fixed as seems to be indicated by the comparatively few levels of marriage rank-price. Both ramages and village kin groups constitute social units for the worship of ancestors and sacred heirlooms. Owing to the principles of bilateral descent, the composition of these worship communities is flexible.

Political Organization. Traditionally, a kingdom was comprised of several principalities, each of which in turn consisted of a number of village territories. On each level the political structure was based on a myth, according to which leadership originated from a divine being (the tumanurung) who, before ascending back to heaven, left an object on earth that was henceforth believed to contain a divine spirit. Such sacred heirlooms ( kalompoang ) legitimated the political authority of noble rulers (on the levels of kingdoms and principalities) as well as that of commoner village rulers. Both noble and commoner rulers were assisted by various functionaries organized in councils. Nowadays the traditional system has been adapted to the pan-Indonesian administrative structure. In most regions, Makassar nobles hold prominent offices on the administrative levels of kabupaten, kecamatan, and desa, while village rulers were either installed as, or supplanted by, formal village heads. However, kalompoang and informal traditional leaders are still held in high esteem.

Social Control. The most significant means of maintaining social control is the concept of siri' (shame, honor, self-respect). Anyone seriously offending another person's siri' runs the risk of being killed, without any external authority being involved in the affair. Only in some cases, such as conflict over matters of land tenure or other kinds of property, are leaders requested to settle disputes. In precolonial times, the violation of marriage taboos was punished by drowning.

Conflict. Makassar claim to be looking for, rather than avoiding, conflict. Conflict arises quickly over matters of siri', which in particular relates to guarding one's own social rank and esteem, as well as that of one's female relatives. Because the local government and police now exercise control over rural communities, however, there is an increasing tendency to settle disputes peacefully.

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