Nissan - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Islanders boast that their society is egalitarian. Major differences in wealth and power are uncommon. Nonetheless, sex, age, family name, personal character, and achievement affect social status. The system of ranking that sets big-men apart from ordinary men allows Individuals to draw distinctions of rank among these men as well, but it does not provide a basis for consensus on rank order.

Political Organization. Nissan has a local government, Including elected officials, administered under the North Solomons Province of Papua New Guinea. Nissan villages and sometimes hamlets also have traditional leaders, "big [Important] persons." Such big-men inherit their claims to Leadership from their fathers, sometimes also inheriting the land on which their hamlets are located. But big-men must validate and maintain their positions by demonstrating interpersonal and leadership skills—coordinating work efforts, settling disputes, and demonstrating generosity—and by organizing mortuary feasts. Given islanders' egalitarian sentiments, bigmen adopt various strategies of indirect leadership, and followers, because they are not the equals of leaders, practice formal avoidances of them. It is possible that competition for the position of big-man was once more common than it is today. Another leader similar to the big-man existed in the past, the loia, who was surrounded by formal avoidances.

Social Control. Nowadays the provincial government and its local representatives have assumed many of the formal functions of social control. Big-men and other elders also resolve disputes within and between villages. A traditional form of mediated dispute settlement, poluk, involving the Exchange of pigs and shell rings between disputants, is unCommon today.

Conflict. The major causes of disputes are marital infidelity, contested land rights and boundaries, the marauding of pigs, and misdirected gossip. Thefts, unsolicited borrowings, unpaid debts, suspicions of sorcery, and fights between Children also cause disputes between people. Intervillage rivalries are common. Once these resulted in warfare (and cannibalism), and even nowadays they lead to occasional fights Between groups.

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