Marquesas Islands - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Marquesan society was Hierarchically structured on the basis of tapu principles, ritual occupations, sex, age, chiefly rank, and property. Power acquired through warfare or shamanistic accomplishment was as important as legitimate claims to rank. As indigenous rank structures broke down, other forms of privilege associated with particular forms of paid employment developed. The class distinctions now apparent in the Marquesas are the same as those that exist elsewhere in French Polynesia, and they derive from education, government or professional employment, and in some cases investment.

Political Organization. As in other eastern Polynesian groups, there were "chiefdoms," but these did not usually constitute clearly defined territorial domains. Within valleys, there were often several competing chiefs, sometimes with crosscutting loyalties. Most islands were split into dual divisions, the constituent tribes of each notionally sharing Descent from one of a pair of brothers. In the northern part of the group this division did seem to structure warfare, but even there conflict within as well as between the groups occurred. There was no chiefly leadership at the division level.

Social Control. In the early nineteenth century disputes were resolved through arbitration or fighting; the losers in any major conflict sometimes left the islands in canoes to search for a new home. Sorcery was widely practiced, but it was done in the interests of individuals rather than as an expression of collective authority. Marquesan law was never recognized by the French colonial regime.

Conflict. Warfare was endemic in early contact society, and it was systematically linked with rivalrous feasting and competitive food production in the struggle for prestige and land. Factional disputes within particular valley populations were also common, and they often resulted in the displacement of chiefs and other prominent families.

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