Pentecost - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Social organization is based on the intersection of the traditional hierarchical principles of rank, seniority, and gender. These principles are being transformed by the impact of the commodity economy, so that class differences are emerging. Such distinctions are most pronounced in urban centers, but they are also apparent in rural regions, although these novel inequalities interpenetrate indigenous patterns of rank.

Political Organization. Precolonial politics were based on achieved rank in an institution called "the graded society." Through the exchange and sacrifice of pigs (including tusked boars), mats, and other valuables, men (and in some places women) assumed titles in a hierarchically ordered series. This arrangement conferred on men more than women sacred powers enhancing their capacity to grow crops, nurture tusked boars, control the weather, and perform rituals Controlling human sexuality, health, and fecundity. But such powers were also considered to be dangerous and potentially destructive. This belief necessitated segregated commensality, whereby men ate separately from women and children, and high-ranking men from those of low rank. High-ranking men exerted greater political influence without having assured authority. In the modern state of Vanuatu, the symbolism of the graded society is still employed in the imagery of the state, and the importance of high rank permeates to the national level through the institution of the National Council of Chiefs, which gives advice on matters of kastom (traditional culture). The chiefs in this council are, however, those created and recognized by the state, rather than necessarily those with locally recognized high rank.

Social Control. Although there are official courts and asssessors that are part of the national legal stucture, disputes—which arise most frequently over land, marriage, and pigs—are in fact usually resolved in informal village courts. These courts are protracted meetings that try to effect consensus. Men rather than women are vocal in such meetings, and those who speak most and exert most influence tend to be older and high-ranking. Decisions at such meetings are thought to be binding on all in the community and may occasion the payment of fines.

Conflict. Violent conflict is rare, and domestic violence is almost nonexistent. Only on very rare occasions do people resort to outside agencies of police, prisons, or asylums to Control offenders. This current state of affairs is a major departure from precolonial practice, when warfare was endemic between villages and violent resolutions of conflict were frequent.

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