Dani - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In the Grand Valley the largest territorial sociopolitical unit is the alliance, with several thousand people. Warfare and the great pig feast are organized at the alliance level. Each alliance is composed of several confederations, which are also territorial units containing from several hundred up to a thousand people. Confederations are usually named for the two sibs with the strongest representation. Many ceremonies, and the individual battles that constitute warfare, are organized on a confederation level, initiated by the confederation-level leaders. Within the confederation territory there are usually recognizable neighborhoods, but these are not true, functioning social units. Contiguous clusters of compounds, also making up physical units, are not social units. Each individual compound, although lacking formal organization, is the venue of the most intense social interaction. Moieties and sibs are nonterritorial, unilinear descent groups which crosscut the territorial units. The two moieties, being exogamous, are represented in every compound. A couple of dozen sibs may be represented in a confederation, even though it is dominated by members of only a few sibs. In Dani areas outside the Grand Valley, the confederation is the largest unit and alliances are absent.

Political Organization. Dani leadership is relatively informal, vested in nonhereditary "big-men" (that term is used in Dani). The leaders of the confederation and the alliance are well known, but they are not marked by special attire or other artifacts. They are men of influence, not power, and they emerge as leaders through consensus. Leaders take responsibility for major ceremonies and for initiating particular battles. The leader of the alliance announces the great pig feast and directs the final alliance-wide memorial ritual. Leaders are believed to have unusually strong supernatural powers.

Social Control. Grand Valley Dani have no formal judicial institutions, but leaders, using their influence, can resolve disputes up to the confederation level, assessing compensation for pig theft and the like. But beyond the confederation, even within a single alliance, disputes often go unresolved because rarely does anyone's influence extend across confederation boundaries. Norms were not expressed in explicit formal statements. Now the Indonesian police and army have taken over dispute settlement.

Conflict. Until the early 1960s, interalliance warfare was endemic in the Grand Valley. Each alliance was at war with one or more of its neighbors. Wars broke out when the accumulation of unresolved disputes became too great. A war could last for a decade. Then, as the original grievances began to be forgotten, fighting would slack off. At that point an alliance that had built up unresolved interconfederation grievances could split apart, resulting in re-formation of alliances and ties, whether of war or of peace, between alliances. The confederation itself remained relatively stable, but alliance groupings shifted. It was the ritual phase of war that lasted for years. Once begun, it was fueled by the belief that ghosts of the killed demanded revenge. Since both sides were Dani, with virtually the same culture, and the same ghost beliefs, the killing went on, back and forth. In the ritual phase of war, formal battles alternated with surprise raids and ambushes at the rate of about one incident every couple of weeks. Battles might bring 1,000 armed men together for a few hours on a battleground. A raid might be carried out by a handful of men slipping across no-man's-land hoping to kill an unsuspecting enemy. But a war would begin with a brief, secular outburst that had no connection with unplacated ghosts. Some confederations in an alliance would turn against their supposed allies and make a surprise attack on villages, killing men, women, and children indiscriminately. The alliance would be broken apart, and both sides would withdraw from a kilometer-wide area, which would become a fallow no-man's-land on which the periodic battles of the ritual phase of war would be fought. By the mid-1960s, the Dutch and then the Indonesians were able to abolish formal battles of the ritual phase of war, but sporadic raids and skirmishes continue in isolated parts of the Grand Valley.

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