Kapingamarangi - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Kapinga social order was hierarchically organized: the household was nested in the compound, where males belonged to men's houses, which were controlled by their headmen and an elder male called the tomoono. These leaders were, in turn, accountable to the high priest, called aligi, who was responsible for organizing all cult house ritual and for communicating with the gods, who were the ultimate source of all authority.

Political Organization. The institution that integrated household compounds, descent groups, and the men's houses was the cult house, whose activities were organized by the priesthood. The high priest exercised a good deal of Control over fishing and access to land resources through his ownership of breadfruit trees and drift logs (used to make canoes) ; by his ability to taboo the lagoon, deep sea, and trees; and by his decisions on timing of rituals. By restricting the number of canoes, he indirectly controlled the frequency of angling, lending a powerful saliency to men's houses, the other major alternative for fishing activity. Men's houses varied in number between two and five, and they exercised Control over their members' time through the organization of group fishing expeditions, which could number as many as three during a day. Fishing was organized by a headman, while work groups were organized and provisioned by the tomoono. There was a good deal of competition between men's houses in fish catches and in song composition. The men's house located lagoonward of the cult house on the main islet provided the major work force for cult-house Projects, and its tomoono had veto power over the granting of permission to construct canoes. He was also given the task of provisioning and caring for Europeans after contact. His liaison responsibility eventually evolved into a position of power that became a secular chieftainship (he was called "king") after the collapse of the cult house and conversion to Christianity in 1917.

Social Control. Disputes over land were ordinarily settled by the families involved, while those arising among men were normally settled in the men's house. Breaches of fishing or men's-house protocol were dealt with by the tomoono, while the high priest dealt with ritual violations, sometimes by execution, which ordinarily was done by putting the violator in a canoe and setting it adrift.

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