Mardudjara - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Families, bands, estate groups, and "big meetings" (periodic aggregations of people from a number of neighboring dialect-named territories, who met to conduct ritual and other business) were the major elements of Social organization traditionally. These were crosscut by a multiplicity of memberships (totemic, kin-based, ritual-grade, etc.), including moieties and sections, which welded desert society together. Today, the families and the "big meetings" remain important institutions, but they exist parallel to introduced forms such as committees and councils.

Political Organization. In former times, political action was the domain of small groups, and sex and age were the main criteria for differentiation. Although the status of women was lower than that of men, an egalitarian ethos prevailed, and leadership was very much context-dependent and changeable. Most of the time, the norms of kinship provided an adequate framework for social action and the allocation of roles. The social and political autonomy of the traditional band and estate group has been replaced by encapsulation and minority status within the nation-state and the introduction of Western-style institutions such as elections and Councils. High mobility and involvement in regional land councils reflect a continuing interest in the wider Western Desert Society as "all one people," and the Mardu spend much time and effort maintaining these contacts. Politically, they remain dependent on governments for survival and on White advisers for assistance in dealing with the bureaucracies of Australian society. In the past few years, however, there has been a marked increase in Mardu political awareness and confidence in dealing with outsiders.

Social Control. Traditional social controls relied heavily on a high level of self-regulation, but physical sanctions were invoked on occasion. Western influences have seriously undermined these controls in the contact situation. For example, spearing and other forms of physical punishment have occasioned police interventions and arrests of "lawful" punishers; unprecedented numbers of children have led to problems of vandalism; there is an increasing incidence of Marriage between improperly related partners; and young women have successfully resisted attempts to marry them off to their betrothed partners. Alcohol has contributed greatly to a loosening of traditional social controls, and uncontrolled violence (as well as drunken driving) has led to many deaths.

Conflict. Conflict was closely controlled traditionally, and the ritualized settlement of disputes was a vital preliminary to every "big meeting." Today, adding to less easily controlled intracommunity conflicts are political struggles, mostly with mining companies but also with a neighboring Aboriginal group that has long sought, unsuccessfully, to bring the Mardu under its control.

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