Tanna - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Two or more lineages/name sets are localized at each kava drinking ground. The men of several neighboring kava-drinking grounds together belong to a named, regional group, of which there are about 115. Kavadrinking grounds across the island are linked by a complex system of traditional "roads" along which men exchange messages, goods, and spouses. This road network, by which each Tannese village is linked to all others, has produced cultural homogeneity across the island, despite linguistic diversity.

Political Organization. Tannese society is hierarchically organized on the basis of sex and age. There are also two chiefly positions at most kava-drinking grounds: the ianiniteta ("spokesman of the canoe") and the ierumanu ("ruler"). These today have only occasional ritual importance. Among adult men a principle of egalitarianism governs social interaction. A few men, however, enjoy more influence and prestige than others. In the main, these iema asori, big-men, are unlike those found elsewhere in Melanesia whose positions depend on economic ability. On Tanna, a village leader owes his status to his age, his ritual and other local knowledge, and to the size of his name set. A second kind of "ideological" big-men are the leaders of the various island-wide political and religious organizations, such as the John Frum and Custom movements.

Social Control. Although national police and island courts operate on Tanna, most disputes are handled unofficially. Avoidance is a common tactic. When people must resolve their differences, they convene a dispute-settlement meeting at a local kava-drinking ground. Here, big-men and involved third parties attempt to establish a social consensus that at least temporarily resolves the problem and ends avoidance between disputants. Resolution is signified by the exchange of pigs and kava between the two sides. Although traditional sorcery is today uncommon, islanders believe that ancestors displeased with conflict may make them sick. A serious illness thus induces people to attempt to resolve outstanding disputes.

Conflict. The root of most conflict is exchange imbalance, particularly within sister-exchange agreements. People also dispute land ownership and boundaries, and disagreements sometimes occur between husbands and wives. Traditional raiding and cannibalism ceased in the early 1900s. In the period leading up to independence considerable social disruption took place but today, aside from occasional fights during dispute-settlement meetings gone awry, the island is remarkably peaceful.

Also read article about Tanna from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: