Melpa - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Clans are primarily linked by Marriages and the exchange ties that flow from them. Clans of a tribe generally had obligations to give support in serious warfare, but internally they might also fight each other. Tribal warfare has returned in the 1970s and 1980s with the partial breakdown of government control.

Political Organization. The indigenous leader is the bigman (wö nuim ) who does not formally succeed to an office but with the aid of his kin establishes a dominant place in the networks of moka exchange. In precolonial times, big-men held a greater monopoly over shell wealth, which disappeared after Europeans brought in thousands of these previously scarce items. Big-men must also be good speakers and negotiators. Nowadays, the big-man system operates along with the introduced roles of councillors, provincial members, and members of the National Parliament, all of whom are elected every four or five years.

Social Control. Force played a major role in relations Between groups in the past, modified by the negotiating skills of big-men. Internally, conflicts were settled by moots. Nowadays, these are replaced by official Village Courts and by a range of other introduced courts.

Conflict. Conflict is endemic in Melpa society, counter-balanced by strong norms of friendship between kin and Exchange partners. The resurgence of political conflict between groups is a serious contemporary problem. It is fueled both by economic change and by continuity of a revenge mentality.

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