Tongareva - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The basic social divisions of Tongareva society were by sex and age. Adult men were the principal authorities within the family, though it appears that women enjoyed considerable autonomy.

Political Organization. The huaanga was the basic Political unit, its members united under an ariki or "chief" and attending the same marne (ritual place); there were about thirteen huaanga in 1853, averaging about 150 members each. The relationships among huaanga were marked by varying degrees of mutual suspicion and hostility, dominance and submission. Groups of four or five adjacent huaanga were united by kinship, realpolitik, or conquest into one of three largely endogamous hititangata, which acted primarily as war confederacies. Occasionally, two hititangata would ally against the third. Normatively, ariki were men chosen by primogeniture in a chiefly line, though sometimes at least succession was the subject of competition and decision by council. Although ariki had some ritual authority—imposing taboos and performing rituals to incorporate strangers, for example—their influence rested largely on control of property and networks of kin and allies. The more powerful among them had others do much of their manual labor; Lamont regarded their long thumbnails as "testimony of their privileged idleness." They acted as spokespersons, managers of communal work, arbitrators in serious disputes, and war officials.

Social Control. Taboos imposed by individuals or ariki on use of property were an important means of social control. In 1929, Peter H. Buck reported the importance also of public opinion, vilification, and beating, and it seems probable that these sanctions were employed in the contact era as well. Disputes and other matters of moment commonly were discussed in open-air councils that might involve a haanau alone, one or two huaanga, or even occasionally a whole hititangata.

Conflict. In 1853, Tongareva was divided by warfare among the three hititangata. This conflict was somewhat atypical, however, since the Chatham castaways fomented several of the engagements. The usual causes of fighting were coconut shortages, political machination, and revenge. At the first sign of trouble, the elderly would take the very young into hiding. Confrontations occurred both on land and sea. Land engagements frequently involved amphibious landings in large war canoes and often were preceded by ceremonial speeches that might result in conciliation; sometimes, However, Tongarevans launched surprise attacks. Engagements seldom turned into blood baths, possibly because—on land at least—warriors usually were separated by their women, who were considered inviolable.

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