Lakalai - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Under the leadership of one or more senior men, the hamlet acts as a unit in economic activities, including putting on feasts and sharing food received at feasts given by other hamlets. All protein food should be shared within the hamlet. Rivalry between hamlet heads, and covert clan feuds, weaken village cooperation, but crosscutting kin ties bind residents together, as does common reliance on a few ritual specialists such as a garden magician. Clan mates need not live in the same hamlet, and they act as a unit only at weddings and when producing masks and performing dances for ceremonies. A woman, as the continuation of the descent group, should be respected by her brother, but in general women are denigrated, and male solidarity, including that between brothers-in-law, disadvantages women. An abused wife may, however, shame her husband by cursing him in public, or she may leave him if her kin agree that she has been badly mistreated. Too much contact with women, and especially with menstrual blood and blood shed in childbirth, is thought to weaken men. In the past, men usually slept in a separate men's house and avoided contact with young babies, considered contaminated by the aura of childbirth. These attitudes have weakened greatly in recent years, but some menstrual taboos are still observed. The overall position of women has improved somewhat because of missionary influence.

Political Organization. Each hamlet is led by one or more senior men, literally called "big-men." They must have demonstrated ability to finance marriages and otherwise care for dependents and to sponsor ceremonies. In addition, each clan segment is headed by the senior male. In the past, leading warriors who also belonged to a clan holding land near the village were invested with a wristband containing a powerful spirit, which enabled them to settle quarrels as well as to continue success in battle. Because these men, called suara, tended to promote the interests of their own clans and Hamlets, the ideal solution was agreement by all the big-men to elect one as village chief. He carried no arms and was supported in his decisions by the remaining suara. Without such a chief, hamlets and villages often broke up. At present, elected officials handle village affairs, but hamlet and clan heads continue as in the past.

Social Control. Fear of being shamed by their elders and inability to finance their own marriages help to keep younger men well-behaved. In the past, threats of sorcery and beatings and the intervention of suara impeded open wrongdoing. Today, village courts and the external police and judicial System are resorted to when the scolding of elders is ineffective. Fear of Hell is also said to influence some of the more devout Christians.

Conflict. In the past, conflict between territories was often triggered by offenses such as the abduction of a woman or theft of a pig across the boundaries. When tired of fighting, the war leaders, united by their possession of the same kind of wristband, oversaw formal peace ceremonies at which compensation was paid for deaths.

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