Sengseng - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Sengseng believe that association with others is likely to lead to quarrels, and quarreling is in fact frequent between coresidents, though they try to avoid killing. Settlements constantly split up; it is always possible to join cognatic kin elsewhere. Links between settlements are maintained by marriage, attendance at dances, trade, and the practice of giving a visitor a pearl shell on departure, leading to return visits to settle the debt with an identical shell. With the establishment of official villages, however, coresidents often act as a unit in confronting other villages, but internal harmony remains minimal except when a resident is planning a ceremony and makes a special effort to gain cooperation from others.

Political Organization. The Sengseng identify themselves as speaking a common language, but they have never been united politically. Leadership depends on a combination of ability as a warrior and as an organizer of feasts in which Domestic pigs are killed, and the possession of wealth in niklak and pearl shells. A leader need not be married, but he must be willing to travel widely, to trade and collect debts, and to attend ceremonies at which pork is distributed together with pearl shells.

Social Control. The older men of a settlement punished certain offenses, such as public use of sexual terms, by spearing the offender. Most quarrels result from failure to pay debts on demand. Ending a quarrel requires an exchange of matched pearl shells, even in villages near the coast, where village officials and elders of both sexes try to settle disputes.

Conflict. In the past, warfare might erupt at any time. A man shamed in his own village, as by falling down in the Presence of women, would relieve his feelings by spearing the first outsider he encountered, and any hapless traveler might be speared by a man wishing to enhance his own reputation as a warrior. Dances still often lead to brawls and occasionally to killing, if any offense such as an insult is remembered. All killings demand a return death, but then peace is likely to be restored, with payments exchanged. Victims of warfare should not include a child, an important man, or more than one victim at a time; breach of these rules would provoke unControlled retaliation.

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