Woleai - Sociopolitical Organization

Each island is largely self-governing but linked to others through intermarriage and exchange networks of varying size.

Social Organization. The matrilineal clans on each island are ranked according to seniority of settlement and control of land. Genealogy, gender, age, and specialized knowledge determine an individual's rank within the Community. Men outrank women in public affairs and older residents have priority over younger. Men who have mastered certain traditional domains of knowledge such as navigation, divination, and canoe building are respected and formerly were referred to as "taboo men."

Political Organization. Each district of an island has a chief, usually the senior man (sometimes woman) of the clan that first settled or conquered it. These chiefs are ranked and constitute the island's governing council along with a senior man from every other clan on the island. Some islands have a paramount chief. The Lamotrek paramount chief also has authority over Elato. A chief's authority permits him (or her) to receive first fruits from all other clans and subclans that reside in the district or (in the case of a paramount chief) on the island, to command and schedule community labor and rituals, and to invoke taboos. The chief does not have the right to dispossess lower-ranking individuals or kin groups. Today, Woleai elects three representatives by precinct to the Yap state legislature and, along with the other outer islands of Yap, one senator to the FSM national congress. Traditional chiefs hold membership on a council that advises and oversees the activities of the state legislature.

Social Control. The senior members of lineages and clans have the responsibility to maintain peace and harmony among members. Chiefs can fine malefactors if they break the peace or taboos. The offender's kin group is held responsible for paying such fines, which are usually levied in traditional goods. Fines are not kept by the chief(s) but redistributed within the community. In extreme cases a troublemaker may be denied harvesting rights by his or her kin group and thereby forced into exile on a neighboring island.

Conflict. Warfare between islands, which occurred in precontact times, ceased about 100 years ago. The presence of interisland exchange and trading networks probably has served to harmonize interaction.

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