Yapese say the land is chief. It is their primary focus on land that organizes the social and political aspects of Yapese life.
Social Organization. The estate group and the village are the primary units organizing the social life of Yap. Within each village, family estates place individuals in a hierarchy of relationships within the community. Particular estates own titles that confer authority and prestige upon the members of that estate group. Villages in Yap are also ranked to include two major divisions: "Pilung," or "autonomous villages"; and "Pimilngay," or "serf villages." The autonomous villages are further ranked in three divisions: chief villages, noble villages, and commoner villages. The serf villages are ranked in two divisions: chief's servants and serfs. All the inhabitants born in a particular village automatically carry the rank of that village. One may marry people from other ranks, but one can never change the rank of birth. Within each village people are also ranked according to relative age, sex, and title from one's estate.
Political Organization. Each village in Yap is led by at least three titled estates: village chief; chief of young men; and chief of ritual. The men who speak for these titled estates oversee a council made up of men who represent lesser titles in the village. To hold political authority one must be the eldest living member of the family estate and be capable of speaking articulately for its interest in public. Decision making on Yap is characterized by indirect communication and consensus. The village chief articulates for the public the decision that has been made by consensus of the group. Prior to American administration, the government of the Yap Islands was organized by the chiefs of the paramount villages Scattered around Yap. Three paramount villages located in Gagil, Tamil, and Rull provided the locus of power from which were formed two major alliances of villages and chiefs. These Leaders maintained power primarily by controlling communication through legitimate channels connecting villages and estates and by planning punitive wars against those individuals who violated the decisions and expectations of the majority in an alliance. Today the Yap state government has supplanted the traditional system of alliances and governs through the legislative, administrative, and judicial branches. While contemporary Yapese officials are elected to their positions, many hold traditional titles and traditional bases of support. However, in the situation of contemporary politics, education and expertise in the functions of modern government are essential to political success.
Social Control. In the traditional village setting, the Council of elders maintains social control through a system of punitive fines and mediation by the chiefs between families in conflict. In the contemporary setting the state court plays a major role in the adjudication of disputes among Yapese. The court has effectively replaced village elders as the arena and process for the resolution of contemporary disputes.
Conflict. Excessive consumption of alcohol and limited opportunities for employment following graduation from high school create an atmosphere in which young men on Yap have little to challenge their ambitions and interests. Village divisions and hostilities that characterized the preContact period have reemerged in the 1980s as a basis for gangs and for intervillage and interregional conflicts. Gangs of youths in each of the major regions of Yap stake out their territory and threaten violence to those who dare enter. Incidents of violence usually end in a court case in which the injured parties seek punitive action against those responsible.