Tasmanians - Sociopolitical Organization

As noted above, the term "Tasmanians" refers to an unknown number of groups or societies. The societies had no formal leaders nor were they landholding or war-making units. Each society was composed of a number of named communities which were further subdivided into households. Each society had from five to fifteen communities (with from thirty to eighty related members in each), which were the basic landholding and war-making units and were led by an older man renowned for his hunting ability, although he probably had little authority except during warfare. Community affiliation was expressed through shared myths, dances, songs, and hair style. Affiliation with other communities within the society was weak, even though it was expressed by a reluctance to fight against affiliated communities and a greater willingness to allow those communities access to community land. The aged were afforded some prestige, and there is some evidence of three age grades for males, with ceremonial marking of passage into a new age grade.

Social Control. In the absence of centralized leadership, social order was maintained by the community. Individual disputes were often settled by throwing-stick duels and violations of customs were punished by group ridicule. Transgressions against the community were punished by hurling spears at the stationary offender who could try to dodge them only by twisting his body out of the way.

Conflict. War between communities from different societies is reported to have been common, although this may reflect only the postcontact situation. Trespassing and stealing a woman were the major reasons for war, which consisted mostly of surprise attacks and skirmishes and rarely produced more than one death.

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