Telefolmin - Sociopolitical Organization

Papua New Guinea is an independent country with a Westminster form of government. Telefolmin and their neighbors are represented by elected members at national and provincial levels.

Social Organization. The endogamous village is the basic unit of social organization and was traditionally tied to the men's cult, which was structured in terms of initiation levels and ritual moieties. In contrast to other New Guinea Societies, exchange traditionally played a minor role in intergroup relations, which were instead organized through male initiations centered on Telefolip. Today, church groups are Important at the village and intervillage level. Traditional social organization emphasized egalitarian values associated with a community differentiated by ritual knowledge rather than wealth, and one issue now facing Telefol society is the accommodation of wealth differences within small communities. At present, the general tendency seems to be to emphasize conjugal ties and the nuclear family while restricting the claims of less closely related kin.

Political Organization. There are no formal political offices at the local level apart from elected village councillors and ward committee members, who have only marginal influence on village affairs. In the past prominent men ( kamookim ) held some sway, particularly in fights with enemies, but even their influence was minimal. Despite this, Telefolmin displayed a remarkable degree of unity, which is largely attributable to common ritual ties to Telefolip. Telefolmin were unusual among New Guinea peoples for forbidding warfare within their ethnic group; however, they often combined en masse against outside enemies, as in the case of the extermination of the Iligimin. More recently, Telefolmin have spearheaded movements toward the Creation of a "pan-Min" political identity in negotiations with the central government concerning the Ok Tedi mine.

Social Control. There is little exercise of authority, even on the part of parents over children, and social control is for the most part informally managed through shame and withdrawal of reciprocity. Tact is highly prized, and people avoid giving offense for fear of sorcery. Intravillage disputes Generally go unaired; the parties merely avoid each other until matters cool down.

Conflict. Traditionally, warfare only took place between Telefolmin and other ethnic groups (especially Falamin, Tifalmin, Miyanmin, and the now-defunct Iligimin). Tensions between Telefol villages sometimes erupted into brawling, but more often it surfaced in sorcery suspicions. Violence between fellow villagers was and is rare. The government holds village councillors responsible for reporting trouble cases, but such reports are made only when all else fails.

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