Tahiti - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. During the eighteenth century, there were basically three social classes: the ari'i, or chiefs; the Commoners, variously known as manahuni or ra'atira; and the laboring and servant class known as teuteu. Only the last group could not own land. By the beginning of the nineteenth Century, perhaps because of European influence, a fourth class called titi, consisting of slaves derived from warfare, had been added.

Political Organization. In the early years of European contact Tahitian tribes were grouped into two major territorial units. One constituted the larger northwestern portion of the island and was known as Tahiti Nui, while the other consisted of the southeastern Taiarapu Peninsula and was known as Tahiti Iti. Each maintained a paramount chief of socioReligious power. Below this highest position were chiefs who ruled over what may be likened to districts. These were Divided into smaller units and managed by inferior ranked chiefs. A paramount chief's power was not unlimited, since important matters affecting most or all of his region were decided by a council of high-ranking chiefs. Paramountcy was not totally preordained, as wars and kinship alliances served to maintain such a status. It was with European aid and combinations of these factors that the Pomare paramountcy was maintained well into the nineteenth century.

Social Control. Fear of divine retribution was a major Control, while human sacrifice and a variety of corporal punishments for secular antisocial behavior were also used as sanctions. Justice in the latter cases was determined by a district chief, and the right to appeal to one's paramount chief was available.

Conflict. Confusion regarding tribal territories and overindulgence of chiefly demands for products and services were sources of irritation. At the time of European contact, warfare for chiefly aggrandizement, rather than territorial acquisition, was dominant. By the close of the eighteenth century the European tradition of warfare for territorial gain had been added to the traditional theme of warfare. Minor interpersonal conflicts were resolved by each antagonist being allowed to exhibit publicly his strong resentment of whatever indiscretion had caused the conflict, after which both parties soon reconciled. However, more important conflicts were settled by a district chief, the antagonists having the right to appeal his decision to the paramount chief if not satisfied.

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