Goodenough Island - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The typical village community comprises several local patriclans occupying one or more adjacent hamlets and consisting of a number of genealogically ranked patrilineages. Clans are linked by marriage and exchange partnerships; there may be further crosscutting ties based on traditional enemy relationships. The village is also divided into ceremonial, nonexogamous moieties, which form the basis of a reciprocal feasting cycle, though nowadays such festivals tend to be promoted purely as memorials for dead leaders.

Political Organization. Large-scale feasting is intrinsically competitive and in the postcontact era it has assumed Political functions hitherto associated with local warfare and revenge cannibalism. A ramifying system of pig and vegetable food debts loosely integrates the neighboring communities that attend one another's feasts and exchanges. Leadership on Goodenough takes several forms. Warrior leaders were prominent traditionally and sometimes became tyrannical despots. At the clan and hamlet level, leaders are ideally the most senior men of their groups, but there are many opportunities for younger sons to achieve prominence if they are productive gardeners, capable organizers, and good orators. Competitive food exchanges, whether held between whole villages or between contending clans within a village, are an important political institution, one that has been elaborated greatly since pacification and the availability of steel tools. Despite the egalitarian ethos of Goodenough society, there are hints of hierarchy in many communities; e.g., the possession of ritual means of prosperity (and conversely, the coercive threat of famine) makes the leaders of certain clans unusually powerful. In heavily missionized communities, However, such ritual village "guardians" do not exist, and village leaders there tend also to be church leaders.

Social Control. Traditionally the redress of wrongs was a matter of self-help by kin groups. Islanders are still reluctant to appeal to external authorities, and it is the local government councillor's task to attempt the settlement of disputes at the village level. Traditional sanctions remain in use; most notable are public harangue, ridicule, ostracism, and revenge sorcery. Among the most important and effective sanctions is food-giving-to-shame, which in the postcontact era has served as a dramatic mode of conflict resolution. It displays many features of traditional warfare; hence the idiom, "fighting with food."

Conflict. In the nineteenth century small-scale warfare and cannibalism were endemic on Goodenough. Because the ultimate indignity to an enemy was to eat him or her, an escalating revenge cycle could ensue from a single act of cannibalism. Not all the clans of a community were enemies of all the clans of a neighboring community, and relations of alliance and hostility could crosscut district boundaries. The very size and compactness of modern communities exacerbate minor conflicts, making Goodenough people seem fractious and hypersensitive to slight. Food and women remain the sources of most conflict, though land disputes are becoming increasingly frequent.

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