Gainj - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Traditionally, the kunyung acted as a group in ritual and warfare, although ties of cognatic kinship could excuse a man from fighting. Membership is not automatic, and descent is never invoked as a principle of recruitment. Group composition is phrased in terms of a shared, continuing, and primary nourishment from gardens within the territory. All those individuals who have received their principal nourishment from the gardens of the same territory share membership and kinship. While membership is fluid, changing membership requires considerable time, and people, particularly in-marrying women, may consider themselves members of two kunyung during the time their membership is in the process of change.

Political Organization. There are no hereditary political positions among the Gainj. Traditionally, local big-men were associated with each territory; the basis of their temporary ascendancy was their skill as fight leaders. The extensive competitive exchange systems that characterize many groups in the central highlands did not operate among the Gainj. Kunyung were the most important political units and their major function was warfare. However, even in warfare, individuals were permitted choice on the basis of conflicting cognatic kinship ties. Today, political unity is expressed in ritual dances and in business cooperatives, whose leaders are spoken of as big-men waging business wars. As is the case in much of highland New Guinea, a system of male dominance permits men to exploit the productive and reproductive abilities of women to their own political and economic advantage.

Social Control. Although the Gainj are citizens of Papua New Guinea and subject to its laws, the legal system operates as social control only in the most serious and public cases. On a more quotidian level, talk, including gossip and public discussion of improper behavior, are more important. By far the major form of social control is fear of sorcery and of sorcery accusations.

Conflict. Traditionally, warfare occurred between Gainj kunyung and between Gainj and Kalam. In the latter, participants were those kunyung directly involved and any allies they could muster, with no expectation that all Gainj would be involved. Warfare was small-scale, composed of forays rather than battles, and was usually precipitated by disputes between individuals or the need to avenge deaths. Gainj note that since pacification, sorcery and sorcery accusations have increased, and "fighting has gone secret."

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