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Aesthetic Opposites in Social Organization—
An Aesthetic Realism Discussion of Oksapmin, Papua New Guinea

Chapter 3 from

Oksapmin Society and World View
Dissertation for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

by Arnold Perey, Ph.D., 
Columbia University, 1973

Kin and Non-kin Are Both Significant

1. Kinship: Gatherings and Divisions Based on Kinship

Lineality in Oksapmin. In keeping with its dispersed settlement pattern Oksapmin has a social organization of great flexibility. Although Oksapmin kinship is predominantly patrilineal, so many social groups are based on non-agnatic ties it is also proper to call Oksapmin patrilineal-bilateral.

The Clan. Each Oksapmin clan consists of all those persons bearing the clan name, which is inherited patrilineally. They have no hierarchical structure—the lineages into which each clan is divided are not grouped into any larger units for initiations, or warfare, or distributions such as the bride price. The clans are not grouped into phratries or larger units themselves; they have no corporate functions as clans, but they are exogamic and regulate marriage.

The Lineage. The Oksapmin lineage is an exogamic patrilineal descent group consisting of persons who have a known male ancestor in common, either alive or recently deceased, to whom they can definitely trace their descent. Therefore all the members of a single patrilineage possess the same clan name. Ordinarily male members of one patrilineage live in the same house or house cluster. But two patrilineages of the same clan ordinarily live in different parishes. Thus, some members of each clan live in one parish, and some in other parishes. The members of the Xoxom clan, for instance, live in Betiana Parish, and others (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. An Instance of Oksapmin Diversity of Clans

The Kindred. Since Oksapmin kinship is strongly bilateral, the term "kindred" is also used herein (in keeping with anthropological practice). The Oksapmin kindred consists of all recognized consanguineal kin (in Oksapmin, extending to all mama and uma) of the person the kindred is defined by. Some of the uma can be directly traced to an ancestor or ancestress held in common with ego, and sometimes the connection is putative. A kindred from the point of view of an individual in it consists of a core, which is his patrilineage, and an unbounded periphery, which is the remainder of his recognized consanguineal kin.

2. Non-kin: People Can Also Be Connected to One Another through Friendship

Friendship or "My Man." The nogo-kana (MY-MAN) relationship is important in Oksapmin—it is friendship so strong as to constitute a recognized social force. Persons living in the same neighborhood need not only be kin, they can be friends who are completely unrelated.

3. Non-kin: What Are the Roles of a Person Regardless of Kinship or Residence?

Age and Sex Terminology. A child in Oksapmin is called berera regardless of sex until, if a woman, she is of marriageable age (about twenty years of age) or, if a man, he is initiated (also about twenty years of age). Then, a woman is called ku (WOMAN) and a man is called kana (MAN).

Still, a person is not considered full-grown until he or she has married and had a child. An adult who is not married, whether bachelor, divorced, or widowed, often is not considered fully responsible and is called ku-timbas­kana (a man without a woman, literally WOMAN-NONE-MAN) or kana-timbas-ku (a woman without a man).

A grown married man is not considered worthy of authority until his beard or hair shows gray in it. Then he passes through the second phase of initiation, in which he is given his ritual drum, and becomes a kana-fazer (MAN-OLD). A kana-fazer is listened to with regard to decisions involving a whole lineage, neighborhood or parish—decisions concerning bride price, for example, or whether or not to fight another parish. Kana-fazer is, then, also a term having political meaning.

Political and Economic Terminology. The two other terms with clear political meaning denote economic status. If a man is wealthy, is a kamarg-kana (WEALTH-MAN), his authority is greater and extends to more people than if he had less wealth but the same age. If a man has little wealth he will be called either a bizaia-kana (POOR-MAN) or era-kana (BAD-MAN or SPOILED MAN), and will hardly be capable of influencing others' decisions.

Since contact with the Australian government, Oksapmin has used two further political terms used everywhere else in New Guinea under what is called "control." These terms are luluai and tultul, and they denote the parish's first and second government-appointed leaders, respectively. Both are responsible for reporting disturbances within the community to the Oksapmin Patrol Officer, who will adjudicate them and/or punish offenders, and for eliciting services to the government from members of the parish—such as forced road labor, the wage labor of carrying cargo on patrol, and the assembling of the community for censusing.

One Role Can Become Another. Thus age and sex terminology, by a gradual process, also becomes political and economic terminology. The roles a person takes because of his or her age and sex, as well as the terminology of these roles, will be described herein. In the chapter titled "The Life Cycle" age-roles will be described, so the following will be a discussion of sex roles, excepting economic sex roles which are in the chapters describing, respectively, "Economics" and in "Differences in Wealth."

Male, Female, and their Relation. Separation and complementarity of the sexes are present in Oksapmin culture, as they are in every culture known to humanity. For instance, although one does not see men and women working in mixed groups, one does see a group of men and a group of women working on different phases of the same project, sometimes at the same time and sometimes at different times. For instance, in repairing temporary houses, women gather roofing grass while men make the roof out of it. Or, in making a new garden, women work as a group to clear low brush and to clear weeds, while at another time men cut the forest and build the fence.

Segregation of the sexes is carried out in residence patterns as well, though perhaps not as unremittingly as elsewhere in the Highlands. Each Oksapmin house has two hearths, one on each side of the partition dividing the house down the middle—one side is for the men, and the other side is for the women. Each side has a separate entrance, and men may not pass in front of the women's door. This pattern is not followed for a couple living together in a house without an expanded family—as very young married couples live, perhaps with one baby, or old married couples, after the children have left.

Each household has its menstrual house, a smaller version of the family house, beside the family house. A woman sits within it when she is menstruating, is brought food by her nearest female relatives, and does her sedentary chores—such as making net bags (unga) or marsh-grass petticoats (masa). During this time it is taboo (awam) for her to be seen by a man, or to walk outside.

Differences in temperament between the sexes appear to be in keeping with the difference, and complementarity, of occupations. One can see women in groups sharing sweet potatoes just taken from a fire, leaning on one another and touching each other more than men do, while jesting. Groups of little girls share food too, in contrast to groups of little boys, in which fighting over food can be observed.

The care of infants in Oksapmin involves constant yielding to the demands for the breast, and permitting the toddler to climb upon the mother. In terms of occupation there is what one might call a symbolic modesty as well—women generally work with a bent back in gardens, clearing brush or weeds upon the ground, and catching what animal life is ground-dwelling and can be gotten with one's hands. Further, women do not climb trees, and when they rest they sit upon the ground with their legs stretched out upon it, in contradistinction to the men who "squat" on their heels.

Men, in contrast to women, climb trees, use powerful projectiles to get arboreal and airborne game, do long-range traveling for hunt or trade, do the fighting, the butchering of pigs, the cutting of trees, and similar self-asserting work often involving height.

Male and female, then, are two of the major social categories of Oksapmin, and groups are formed accordingly—groups of men, groups of women. There is a further and very intricate group structure in Oksapmin. The terminology of (1) groups and (2) kin relations are described next.


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