Belau - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The principles of democratic 0egalitarianism and inherited hierarchical rank conflict in Contemporary Belau. Rank pertains to relations between siblings, Between houses in a village, between titles in a political council, and between villages within the state. According to myth, four villages were regarded as preeminent: Imeiong, Melekeok, Imeliik, and Koror. Financial wealth, elected political office, and esoteric knowledge are other sources of social power.

Political Organization. Prior to the indoctrination into democratic values and practices, Belau was governed by chiefs, whose titles were ranked according to the social hierarchy of local land parcels. Called dui, the word for "coconut palm frond," titles possess sacredness and demand respect apart from the person who carries the title. The highest titleholders from Melekeok village (the Reklai title) and Koror village (the Ibedul title) have emerged as "paramount chiefs" of the archipelago. Today, Belau is a self-governing constitutional republic, headed by an elected president and a national legislature. Traditional chiefs play an advisory role at the national level. Each state is headed by an elected governor and sends two senators to the national legislature. At the village level, a council of chiefs parallels a council of elected officials, headed by a magistrate. The central role of multivillage confederacies, once factions for intervillage warfare, has vanished.

Social Control. Traditional sanctions, including fines and banishment, applied by the local council of chiefs are supplemented by the legislated civil code, which in turn is subject to the laws of the Trust Territory.

Conflict. In the absence of interdistrict political councils in the precolonial period, intervillage hostility functioned as a primary means of political integration and as a mechanism for the financial enrichment of chiefs. Warfare took the form either swift head-hunting raids or massive sieges aimed at the devastation of the enemy village. Also, rivalry among chiefs and competition over title inheritance created powerful motives for political assassination.

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