Tiwi - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The precontact social organization was characterized by the matrilineal clans and by the local groups affiliated with each country. In matrilineal clans, Leadership was largely ceremonial and was conferred according to seniority and competence among the males. Under the Country system of organization, some leaders in the past were men who achieved great prominence through arranging multiple (reportedly sometimes as many as a hundred) marriage contracts for themselves; they also were men whose domestic groups were very large and regionally influential. Such men also gained notoriety as ceremonial leaders in song, dance, and art.

Political Organization. Today, imposed upon the kinship, kin group, and local group organizations are (in ascending order) the township council, the Tiwi Land Council, and the Northern Territory and Australian Commonwealth governments. In each of the three communities an elected township council is empowered to impose bylaws regulating community affairs and is responsible for budgeting and for maintaining township services. The council hires a town clerk (a manager) and other personnel to manage and oversee the various operations of the township. Both men and women serve on the town council.

Social Control. The Tiwi Land Council meets once a month to decide issues that concern matters outside of those of individual townships. While most of these have to do with land and its use, some are concerned with matters of law and its enforcement. Who or what body is concerned with social control and conflict resolution is sometimes problematic. Clan members are often the proper ones to resolve domestic and intradomestic conflict. However, the territory government maintains a two-person police station at Parlingimpi and one or two police aides in each township to handle internal disputes.

Conflict. Conflicts occurred between matrilineal clans and patrifocal local groups and mainly concerned rights to women as wives, almost never other resources. Today, such conflicts are still settled by localized close cognatic and/or matrilineal kin groups or, if this fails, by affiliated matrilineal clans that consider that their close relationship requires their involvement on behalf of their kin. A very few interregional conflicts are part of the oral history of contemporary Tiwi and were resolved by holding a "war" at a designated place and time, during which the opposite sides took turns throwing and dodging spears and throwing clubs. Interpersonal conflicts were often settled by sneak attacks and ambushes.

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