Tolai - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Social relations are highly localized and most everyday interaction takes place within the hamlet or in some larger communities within the village section. However, through the clan system each hamlet in a village maintains friendly relations with hamlets in other villages. These links are maintained and perpetuated through intermarriage, trade, and ceremonial activities. Today, because of the large number of motor vehicles owned by Tolai and the fact that surfaced roads run throughout the Gazelle, this aspect of traditional social organization has been buttressed, rather than undermined, by modern conditions.

Political Organization. There was no central authority or hereditary leadership in the traditional system. Within local communities certain big-men were acknowledged as leaders. A big-man achieved his position by entrepreneurial flair. This flair was demonstrated in his ability to command considerable resources in the form of shell money—resources he put to use in organizing large-scale ceremonies or, in the modern context, in running a business enterprise. Since the 1950s the Tolai have been organized within local government councils, which continue to be based to a considerable degree on earlier local divisions.

Social Control and Conflict. Through their command of wealth in the form of tambu, big-men wielded considerable authority within their own communities. In the past the tubuan, a central figure in the male cult, was said to act as an agent of social control. Disputes between members of the local community were brought before the village assembly or moot; fines might be imposed or compensation awarded, in either case to be paid in tambu. In the past conflicts between different Tolai groups were also compounded by the payment of tambu. Until recently arranging for the hearing of disputes was a primary responsibility of the village councillor, but the village moot or varkurai has now given way to hearings before village courts, while disputes over land are heard by newly appointed land mediators.

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