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

a chapter from

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

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

Marriage and the Household, Quantitatively


Marriage in Oksapmin is about eighty percent monogamous, with about fifteen to twenty percent of the marriages being polygynous.

Postmarital residence is virilocal with respect to parish. This is exemplified by Gwe Parish. Forty-three of the men in Gwe are married, and fifty-eight of the women. Forty-one of the men—ninety-five percent—were born in Gwe and about fifty percent of the women were born in another parish and married into Gwe.

Postmarital residence is also largely virilocal with respect to kindred. When one looks at the households of Oksapmin (see Genealogies of Gwe Parish, Figure 15), one sees: fifty percent of the marriages are virilocal with respect to kindred, twenty-five percent are uxorilocal with respect to kindred; in twenty percent of the marriages the couple lives near the households of both [p. 87] Wi's kindred and Hu's kindred, and five percent are neolocal, living near the kindred of neither Hu or Wi.*


*Uxorilocal with respect to kindred means here that the couple lives with or near the wife's kindred. Virilocal with respect to kindred here means likewise that the couple lives with or near the husband's kindred.


Marriage is exogamic with respect to all consanguineal kin. The taboo against marrying anyone related to oneself consanguineally is largely followed, but about ten percent of the marriages in Gwe are in violation of the rule.


The Oksapmin household has been described in a general way in the foregoing section. By describing the development of a household here, the structure of the household will be made clearer.

A new household is in the making when a girl moves into the women's side of the house belonging to the kindred of the young man she probably will marry. This begins the trial period. She will be one of about three women, because the Oksapmin household is on the average from about five to eight people, although it varies from two to over ten people.

[P. 88] Months after she moves in, when she and her possible husband have come to know one another more closely, if they decide to marry, another house will be built. It will be near the house of the husband's immediate igira, but far enough away to be near second-growth forest ready to be cut. This forest will be made into sweet potato gardens by the couple when they have married.

As time goes on, another young married couple may move in with them. If they do, the husbands will very probably be members of the same kindred. And, after more time has passed, and a child or children have been born, there will have been more changing of personnel within the household.

At this point it is well to describe the composition of the "average" Gwe Parish household, which is the "final" result of the shifting of residence common in Gwe. The composition of the Gwe household has been affected by the famine affecting the parental generation. As a result of that famine, many people changed their residences to more favorable agricultural land.

Taking all generations, then, the following statistics describe the "average" Gwe Parish household (the data on which this analysis is based is in chart form in Appendix IV).

[P. 89] About forty-five percent of the men in a household regard each other as consanguineal kin, uma , awa, or mama, without being able to trace the precise relationship—e.g. they may have had the same awa, or be uma of persons who themselves were uma. About twenty-five percent of the women in a household have this relation to one another.

About thirty-five percent of the adult men residing in the same household are definitely members of the same clan. About ten percent of the adult women in a household are members of the same clan, and they are usually sisters. Their husbands are the ten percent of the uxorilocal men of a household who are unrelated to any of the other men, but whose wives are members of the household kindred. The remaining ten percent of the men of a household are men who can definitely trace a consanguineal tie, through a female link, to one another.

The above is a statistical picture of the "average" household; in practice, the men who form the "core" of the household become friendly very slowly, over a long period of time, usually beginning in childhood. The men of a household hunt opossums together, garden in adjoining gardens, share food sociably and in cases of necessity, and sometimes inter-schedule their agricultural activities so that each feeds the others' families in turn. This kind of close sharing begins in childhood, when boys or a neighborhood or of adjoining neighborhoods hunt birds together, share them, play together.

The household has certain activities which are shared in such a way that the total work gets done; if someone should fall sick, for instance, the job will be done by someone else. Household jobs include cutting and bringing home firewood, feeding pigs, weeding the gardens.

The women of a household, in about ninety percent of the instances, are cooperating with women with whom they have not had a close relationship before. Perhaps because of this, many of the women's productive activities are carried out singly: making net bags, weeding gardens, making grass petticoats. However, women who have been friends since girlhood and who have remained in the same parish after marriage spend time together during the afternoons, and help each other by giving food (sweet potatoes and taro) when it is needed. Also, women divide their time between their husbands' households and their fathers', living some days in one, and some days in the other during the early years of marriage. Therefore, women of a household become friendly after marriage for the most part, and, structurally, women's social and kin ties cross-cut the households notably and produce an additional solidarity among them.

The Oksapmin household is age-graded. While the younger men and women are living in one household, their parents will be living with people mainly their own age and whatever younger members of the family are still unmarried. As years pass, and the older children leave the parental household, and the members of the parental generation become the second ascending generation, and as there become fewer of those who are old, persons who are now advanced in years may come to live with their children or may wish to remain in a house alone. They are now more and more supported by the work and gardens of their children, and do light labor.

The household, then, swells with members and contracts as time continues, in that rhythm the households of man have had immemorially.

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