Maring - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Each Maring clan cluster maintains a single territory, and its members cooperate economically, ritually, and in war. Within that territory, however, the day-to-day gardening activities and responsibilities of providing for the subsistence of individuals are carried out by smaller groups: the gardening pairs (husband and wife; brother and sister; daughter and father); brothers; and men related through marriage.

Political Organization. The largest Maring political unit is the clan cluster. There is no chiefly office, either hereditary or elected, nor are there any other formally recognized offices. Even the concept of big-men is somewhat inappropriate. An individual may gain the support or assistance of others for a particular enterprise through his own powers of persuasion, but any and all Maring men may, if they choose, participate equally in decision making. Attributes which contribute to a man's leadership potential are the ability and willingness to express an opinion on issues; a strong, outgoing personality; physical strength; and a reputation for intelligent or successful leadership in previous situations. All this being said, the arena within which leadership may be exercised is quite limited. It rarely extends beyond the level of the subclan and is most strongly felt among the individual's coresidents in the men's house. Generally, the leader is merely the first to act upon whatever group activity the consensus of the group appears to support. The government-appointed luluai and tultul are offices of no local relevance, and the appointees enjoy no special influence in the community.

Social Control. Social control is largely effected through beliefs in and observances of taboos, as well as through the operation of community pressures brought to bear upon the nonconforming individual. Government courts exist, and cases are sometimes brought to them, but this practice is not common given the personal and economic costs of bringing a suit and the lack of fit between court conceptions of justice and those of the Maring. Serious offenses—such as wife stealing, rape, pig killing, crop stealing, and sorcery—traditionally called for blood vengeance to be sought by the principal offended party, which in the case of wife stealing or rape would be the brother or husband of the woman involved.

Conflict. Fighting among the Maring rarely escalates to warfare within a local population—there are simply too many ties of interdependency for the community to allow hostilities to continue, even if the principals are of different clans. If such disputes cannot be resolved peacefully, the local group may split and take up relations of enmity, but this occurrence is relatively rare. Warfare, properly called, occurs between two separate local populations and was traditionally precipitated by serious offenses such as wife stealing. With their inception in an interpersonal dispute, hostilities call into play sets of allies recruited from the cognatic and affinal relations of the principal combatants. Fighting is highly ritualized and carried out in stages; the first stage requires that the offended party summon the offenders to a designated place in the forest, which will be cleared expressly for the purpose of battle. Shamans ( kun kaze yu ) perform rituals and summon spirits before the battle, and "fight-magic men" perform spells over the weapons and the warriors. The fighting itself is strictly regulated, with the adversarial groups lined up opposite one another on the fight grounds and shooting arrows at one another. Wounds are minimal and deaths are rare. After this "small" fight, if the dispute has not been resolved, ritual preparations for the second stage of hostilities ( ura kunuai, "true fight") are begun. This second stage of fighting is done with axes, jabbing spears, and bows and arrows. At this level of fighting, fatalities are less rare than in the "nothing fight," and the combat may go on sporadically over a period of weeks, ending only when one side or another can no longer hold the support of its allies. During the course of the war, fighting would be interrupted because of rain or to permit the kin of a slain warrior to mourn the deceased. Wars ended in one of two ways. In the first case, one side might successfully rout the opposing force, after which they would burn their victims' gardens and houses and kill all the people they could find in the enemy's territory. The territory itself, however, was not occupied by the victors, for it was believed still to harbor the ancestral spirits of the previous owners. In the second case, one side might call a truce, which would be ritually marked by a pig feast and the planting of a ritually important bush called the rumbim.

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