Fore - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Fore society is characterized as relatively egalitarian, meaning that most significant distinctions in social status are based only on age and sex. There is no system of ranked statuses and no social classes. Nonetheless, inequalities do exist. Men dominate the public arena and consider themselves superior to women, who are called "the hands of men." Also, men compete with each other for political influence and prestige with the more successful individuals achieving regional prominence and increased access to wives, valuables, and resources.

Political Organization. The traditional political organization is based on the parish, or "district," which is composed of one or more adjacent hamlets whose members recognize and defend a common territory, share one sacred spirit place, and ideally settle internal disputes peaceably. Parishes are subdivided into "sections" which, in the past, were the effective military units. Parish sections responded jointly to threats and attack and negotiated the settlement of hostilities. Sections, in turn, are composed of "lines," which are exogamous descent groups as well as political units. Although parishes and sections are coresidential groups, rather than descent groups whose composition changes constantly, the tenuous group unity often is reinforced in the language of consanguinity with members referring to themselves as "one blood." All sections and parishes are led by leaders, called big-men, who command the respect and loyalty of their followers by demonstrating superior skill in activities necessary for survival of the group. They initiate and organize most group activities (including warfare), direct economic transactions with other groups, and recruit immigrants to bolster group numbers. A big-man must be a strong, dominating figure, an aggressive warrior, and a skilled orator and negotiator. He also must face constant competition from other would-be leaders who will usurp his authority if he falters. Today, the local political system is complemented by the national system of elective offices and Fore big-men often stand for provincial and national assembly seats.

Social Control. Big-men, as fight leaders and peace negotiators, play an important role in controlling the level of hostilities between parishes. The threat of sorcery also is a powerful means of social control for members of different parishes. Within parishes, unity depends on reciprocity and cooperation among members. Perceived violations of these group norms are publicly denounced by offended parties and often lead to demands for restitution. Actions especially prohibited within a parish are stealing, adultery, fighting with lethal weapons, and sorcery. The imposition of sanctions, however, rests largely on the authority of big-men and their ability to command the cooperation of others. Within households, the structured antagonism between men and their wives can be influenced by the intervention of close relatives and also is modulated by fear that wives secretly may contaminate abusive husbands with menstrual secretions.

Conflict. In the past, interparish warfare was a normal aspect of everyday Fore life. Driven by an ethic that demanded retaliation for actual or suspected wrongs, sporadic raids and counterraids were made into enemy territory to kill those thought culpable and to destroy their houses, pigs, and gardens. Fighting tended to occur between members of neighboring parishes, and at any given time a parish was likely to be at peace with some neighbors and actively prosecuting hostilities with others. By mutual consent, peace could be declared, but the tenor of interparish relations was subject to rapid turnabout.

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