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

Chapter 3 of

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

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

Social Terminology

1. The Terminology of Groups

The people of Oksapmin do not call themselves by any single name. The largest named units are Bak, the Bak River Valley; Oksapmin, not the whole area but the western half of the Tekin River Valley; Gaugutiana, the western half of the Gaugutiana Valley; Terangap, the parishes in the western half of the Terangap Valley. The remaining named units are the individual parishes, not all of which are joined into groups of parishes like the foregoing.
Figure 2. Map of Oksapmin, with Gwe Parish

Each parish is individually named, e.g. Divana, Gwe, Waula, Kusana, although there is no generic term corresponding to the English "parish." Each parish simply has a name, considers itself a unit vis-a-vis other parishes, and considers its members to belong to it. Each woman in Gwe parish, for instance, is called a Gwe-ku (GWE-WOMAN), and each man is called a Gwe-kana (GWE-MAN).

The terminology of parish unity, in fact, is intense. Each man greets another man mona! or kwata! (BROTHER!), (FATHER!), whether they are consanguineal kin or completely unrelated. That they are members of the same parish is enough.

The flexibility of Oksapmin social organization has been referred to in this chapter. It is clearly present in the term meaning "social group." This term, igira, can be used to refer to a lineage, a clan, a kindred, or any fairly permanent group, even the group of friends and relatives one habitually spends time with. There is no term corresponding to the English "patrilineage" or "clan" or "consanguineal kin." Any social group, regardless of its criteria for membership, receives the cognitive legitimization of being called an igira.

The igira of one's father (meaning the relatives and friends who will assemble to help him make a garden or fight if the need were urgent enough) is called kwata-ge-kanapa (FATHER-HIS-PEOPLE). The igira of one's mother is called ema-ge-kanapa (MOTHER-HER-PEOPLE). The members of a single household are called ganzi igaluwi fatiwa (MEN THEY ARE HERE?).

The largest igira that considers itself a social unit is what I have been calling a neighborhood. Like the parishes, there is no generic term corresponding to the English "neighborhood." But the fact that the people of a neighborhood identify themselves as, for example, "The People of Gundak"—"The People of Gun-spring" justifies their recognition as a neighborhood (the people who live in the same small place).

Among the bonds that unite people in social groupings are the kinship bonds described in the following section.

2. Kinship Terminology

The Oksapmin system of kinship terminology has a clear relation to the social organization of which it is a part, and this will be discussed. The consanguineal and affinal terms of reference and address for males are presented in Figures 13 and 14. They are essentially the same as those for females.

Figure 13. Consanguineal Kinship Terms

Figure 14. Affinal Kinship Terms

Although it does not conform to the classifications proposed by Murdock (1949), as many kinship systems do not, reasoning similar to Murdock's will be used to show how Oksapmin's kinship terminology system is consonant with its social organization.

Oksapmin descent group membership is about thirty-five percent patrilineal as is the inheritance of land. Therefore some kind of patrilineal emphasis could be expected in the kinship terminology, and it is present. The patrilineage, which is a somewhat isolated unit in the social structure, is also a somewhat isolated unit in the kinship terminology.

Figure 12. Kinship Terminology of Oksapmin

That is, the descendants of Fa: FaBr are differentiated among themselves to the first descending generation, while the descendants of all others are merged. (See Figure 12.)

Further, Oksapmin post-marital residence, which is virilocal with respect to kindred, tends to place patrilineage men close to one another on the land. Since the land of the father is portioned to his sons, who are rivals for it, the patrilineage has both internal solidarity and conflict. Of about one hundred men in Gwe Parish, I knew of two fratricides. The consanguineal kin reckoned through a female link were seen as friendlier than those reckoned through male links. There is an opposition of patrilineal and matrilineal kin.

In the kinship terminology we see the reciprocal term mama: my mother's brother I call mama, my sister's child I call mama. Contrary to this matrilateral bond we see the patrilineal emphasis, slight though it is in cross-cultural perspective.

The fluidity of Oksapmin social structure is in large measure due to the duality of Oksapmin kinship, the possibility of reckoning kin through matri and patri lines. This seems to make for an ambiguity as to how ego is related to distant relatives, and a consequent shortening of genealogies. [P. 83]

The matrileral emphasis is hinted at by two interesting details. First, whereas lineage-mates in many New Guinea societies call themselves "men of one penis," all consanguineal kin in Oksapmin call themselves tap-tem, or one hole. And second, the Oksapmin culture hero is a creatrix. Yuwan, as she wandered through the Mountain Ok region, put the parishes where they are and made the people.

There is, in fact, a real blurring or forgetting of exactly how people are related once they are distant enough to be called awa or uma. The genealogies are correspondingly shallow (see for example Gwe Parish Genealogy, Figure 15). In everyday social groupings a person can drop in as a distant relative, or drop out, easily. Social groups in Oksapmin have, uncertain boundaries that enable them to merge with one another, have peaceful relations with one another, and separate from one another without rupturing or altering permanent boundaries. Thus "unrelated" lineages have links to each other through females, and can join each other in larger, non-patrilineal social groupings.

Figure 15. Geneaologies of All Gwe, Arranged as to Household

The affinal kinship terminology of Oksapmin is similar in certain respects to the consanguineal terminology. WiSiCh is mama, whereas WiBrCh is ata, female-linked and male-linked respectively; and the second descending generation is awa. [P. 85]

However, the affinal terms have their own meaning. All the consanguineal kin of the wife or husband are called basima, though it is unclear to the Oksapmin people how many relatives are included among basima. In fighting one cannot shoot an arrow at basima, so in practice it is very important whether they are the wife's immediate consanguineal kin, all her uma, or her whole parish. In distributing pork, and in distributing bride price as well, the identity of basima is important. The rules are not clear on this point, however.

Who bara are, who the principal affines are, is clear: WiBr, WiSi, WiFa, and W1M0. The relation is intense, and the personal name of a bara is strictly avoided though the person himself or herself is not.

The affinal relation tends to put a limit on fighting between parishes by neutralizing some combatants vis-a-vis one another. It too introduces flexibility in the social structure, and provides a means for patrilineages to be consanguineally linked through females.

The naming of statuses that takes place within the domain of kinship is, then, consonant with the way the kinship system works. The kinship system, in turn, is [p. 86] consonant with and part of the functioning of the Oksapmin social organization as a whole.

To understand that functioning further, quantitative information concerning Oksapmin marriage and the household is given in the following section.


Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy founded by Eli Siegel in 1941, is taught in classes, public seminars and presentations , and consultations at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City. Nationwide outreach includes speakers from the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, consultations by telephone outside New York City and internationally, and the work of the Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company. The Class Chairman, Ellen Reiss, teaches the classes for Aesthetic Realism associates and consultants in which I study. I am proud to say that as a consultant on the Foundation's faculty I teach anthropology, teachers' workshops, and am an instructor in consultations for individuals who want to learn the aesthetic way of seeing the world and themselves.  More links are provided below so you can find out more.
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