Social Organization. Traditionally, Mailu households were under the ostensible direction of the eldest male, though since each adult male had his own gardens his self-sufficiency ensured a certain degree of independence. Enterprises requiring the cooperation of large numbers of people (trading Voyages, garden clearing, the giving of major feasts) drew their personnel from beyond a single household's membership, and leadership in such cases was sought from influential Individuals (headmen) in whom the participants had confidence. Clan affiliation determined the men's house to which one belonged, when men's houses were still being built, and it also served as the organizing principle for contributions of wealth in the pig feasts.
Political Organization. There is no traditionally recognized central authority among the Mailu, although elders generally provided leadership by dint of their prestige and reputation for sound judgment. Once Mailu territory came under colonial rule, individuals were picked by the administration to act as go-betweens, but this imposed leadership has no validation in traditional practice.
Social Control. Within the village, elders—and particularly headmen—might be called upon to mediate disputes and settle grievances. Major offenses such as the adultery of a woman or the killing of kin are sanctioned by death, but for lesser offenses the force of public opinion serves to punish offenders. Sorcerers within the village were usually appeased rather than punished.
Conflict. Warfare between villages was common prior to the arrival of missionaries and Western administrators, and it was conducted primarily for the purpose of collecting heads, which were of ritual importance in male initiation rites. Wars were fought with spears and clubs. Intervillage hostilities might arise over the suspicion of sorcery or in retribution for earlier raids.