We begin with the way people are together locally and go on to describe wider, and cross-cutting ways of organizing. The social groupings, from smaller to larger, include the hamlets, neighborhoods, lineages, clans, kindreds, parishes, and finally Oksapmin as a whole. Along the way we must also account for the way people join due to kinship, marriage, and age and sex roles. We will begin with the simplest and most general descriptions and go on to the most detailed, complex, and inclusive.
How People Are Dispersed and Connected
The Household: the Smallest Unit. An Oksapmin household often consists of a married couple as its center, their children, and friends and/or relatives of either husband or wife and their children. More details will be supplied later. But it is important to see that while there is a patrilineal tendency, as described elsewhere in this work, it is by no means absolute.
The Hamlet. Oksapmin is a region of scattered hamlets or homesteads, each having about two or three households, each with its own gardens (usually nearby).
The Neighborhood. Each Oksapmin parish has subdivisions. The largest and most nearly permanent subdivision is the neighborhood. Each neighborhood consists of about thirty adults each, roughly one-fourth of the population of the parish it is in. It occupies a portion of the parish territory, and the people of the neighborhood would be called, for instance, "The People of Gundak," if Gundak were the principal spring in their neighborhood. It would be from Gundak they would all draw water at dusk.
The people of a neighborhood are, on the average, related as follows (these figures are for Gwe Parish): Twenty-five percent of the men belong to one patrilineage—are that patrilineage; ten percent of the men belong to other branches of the same clan that the twenty-five percent belong to. Fifteen percent of the men are traceable consanguines of the former, or of their wives; fifty percent are non-traceable consanguines or putative consanguines.
Concerning the women of a neighborhood, ninety percent have married into it, half from elsewhere in the same parish and half from another parish. And ten percent are members of the neighborhood's kindred who, in the absence of brothers, remained.
The Parish: the Biggest Autonomous Unit. Each parish is an autonomous community, a political unit, and has a name. About ten or fifteen homesteads make up the parish. The parish, covering about twenty square miles, has from two hundred to three hundred people in it, rather a sparse distribution by New Guinea Highland standards. I lived in Gwe Parish.
I am employing the term "parish," in keeping with accepted usage, because these named settlements consist of homesteads which are dispersed. If they had been clustered in one place, the Oksapmin community would have been called a village.
An Oksapmin parish is essentially a non-hierarchical community. Each of its subdivisions or neighborhoods contains a patrilineage "core," but each patrilineage is of a different clan. Thus the Oksapmin parish consists of persons belonging to on the average twelve different clans, all of which are more or less equivalent in authority.
Each parish is composed of neighborhoods whose members are more closely allied to each other than to kin in other parishes. The members of a parish are also united by multiple ties through non-agnates who provide political unity as well as the means of transferring land, changing residences, exchanging food, and, generally, keeping the parish united.
With this background description of Oksapmin social organization, accenting the geographical aspect of it, we will go on to consider the organization in detail. First, we look at how people are connected through kin and non-kin relations.