Eipo - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In order of increasing complexity and decreasing consanguineality, the following social levels exist: extended families, coresident groups, lineages and clans, men's house communities, villages, and political alliances of a number of villages. Among members of the same lineage or clan, loyalty is usually high. Men's-house communities, led by specific clans, play an important role as work groups and in political decision making.

Political Organization. On the basis of their intellectual, oratorical, social, and physical power, sisinang (big-men) lead village communities as persons who take initiative, pursue plans, and respect rules and traditions, though they also use them to their advantage. In this protomeritocracy, leadership is dependent on the actual power of the leader. Persons who show signs of losing their capacities lose their positions, too. Inheritance of big-man status from father to son is not institutionalized, but it sometimes occurs de facto.

Social Control. Big-men exercise a certain amount of Social control, but more important is the process of enforcing social norms through public opinion. This process, in turn, is effected through gossip, discussion of disputed issues, and the use of extrahuman powers in black magic allegedly performed by female or male witches. The infliction of illness thus functions as punishment for social wrongdoing.

Conflict. Despite the fact that the Eipo are usually friendly and controlled, the potential for aggressive acts is quite high and does not need much triggering. Until recently, in both intraalliance fights and interalliance warfare, approximately 3-4 persons per 1,000 inhabitants died of violence per year. Verbal quarrels and physical attacks with sticks, stone adzes, and arrows was the usual sequence of escalation leading to fights in the village. Neighbors in adjacent valleys sometimes were hereditary enemies who fought wars that were less ritualized (and therefore less controlled) than the intraalliance fights; in the past these conflicts occasionally led to cannibalism. Formal peace ceremonies ended these wars for periods of months or years. Warfare against ideologically defined and dehumanized "others" increased one's own sense of identity and strengthened bonds within the group.

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