Mekeo - Sociopolitical Organization

Through parliamentary elections and representation, Contemporary Mekeo villages are integrated as units into the local, subprovincial, provincial, and national governments of the independent country of Papua New Guinea.

Social Organization. Prior to European contact, Mekeo tribes were autonomous sociopolitical units organized by principles of patrilineal descent, cognatic kinship, hereditary chieftainship and sorcery, mutual support in war, and formalized "friend" relations between clans. "Friends" still intermarry preferentially and reciprocate hospitality and feasts. They ritually release each other from mourning, install one another's heirs to chiefly and sorcery office, and inaugurate each other's clan clubhouses. Relations among clanspeople and "friends" dominate daily village life.

Political Organization. Leadership and decision making are largely in the hands of hereditary clan and subclan Officials and ritual specialists. These offices are passed from Father to eldest son. The most important of these positions are the "peace chief ( lopia ) and his "peace sorcerer" ( unguanga ). Their legitimate sphere of authority concerns all aspects of interclan "friend" relations. The powers of "war chiefs" ( iso ) and "war sorcerers" ( fai'a ) are now obsolete, but titleholders are still accorded considerable respect. In the past, other specialists wielded ritual control over gardening, hunting, fishing, weather, courting, curing, and food distribution. Villagers are subject to the authority of their mothers' and spouses' clan officials as well as their own.

Social Control. Informal sanctions such as gossip and fear of public shame effect substantial control in most situations of daily village life. Serious infractions against the legitimate authority of the lopia are punished, or are believed to be punished, by the unguanga. Unguanga are said to use snakes and poisons as well as spiritual agents to make their victims fall sick or die. The Mekeo belief that all deaths are caused by Sorcery has greatly supported the power of sorcerers and chiefs. The introduction of money and European manufactured goods has reportedly allowed wealthy individuals to pay sorcerers illicitly to do their bidding, rather than that of the legitimate chiefs'. Government regulations are enforced by village courts, elected village councillors, police, government courts, and other state apparatuses. Catholic missionaries and Christian morality also foster conformity in many spheres of modern village life.

Conflict. In the past, intertribal warfare was waged over land and in revenge for previous killings. With "pacification," conflict is expressed in competitive courting and feasting and in accusations of adultery and sorcery.

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