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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

Third Event: Warfare

(3a) A Fight in Which Gwe Parish Divided Upon Itself. A fight began when the Tomwara people accused the Optema people of sorcerizing them, killing one of their people, according to one informant. According to another, the fight began when an Optema pig ruined the garden of Gestin, a man who considers himself both Tomwara and Gwe. Gestin, a hot-tempered man, got angry and killed the pig, it was said. For whatever cause, however, Optema and Tomwara then fought.

Fig. 15 Genealogies of all Gwe Parish Arranged by Houshold

The Gwe Parish people of Houses 15, 16, 18, 19, and 20 fought on the side of Optema Parish (see Figures 15 and 16). In Figure 16 [Gwe Social Organization] they are mainly circled by oval 5B. [P. 104]


The Gwe Parish people of Houses 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, and 17 fought on the side of Tomwara Parish. The men of these houses are mainly circled by oval 2C in Figure 16.

Thus Gwe has major subdivisions which show themselves occasionally in fighting. Another instance of fighting, the exact organization of which is unclear because it took place about twenty years ago, shows the traditional way Oksapmin fighting took place, with its panoply, and raiding, and months-long disruption of ordinary life.

Fighting between parishes would begin when a parish believed it had cause for revenge. In the accounts of fights I received, the causes included killing a pig, which escalated into the killing of men; ambushes of one man by the men of another parish; the belief that someone of importance had been killed by the sorcery of another parish.

In the fight to be described below, it was the last-mentioned cause that began it.

(3b) A Fight Between Parishes, About 1950. A man from the Strickland River valley was staying in Optema. He died—the Optema men said it was because of sorcery performed by the people of Gwe Parish. The people of Gwe [p. 105] learned of this before the accusation was made openly, and were worried about the brother of Tatmop who had gone visiting Optema without knowing there was to be trouble.

The Optema were lying in ambush for him, but he saw them from a hiding place of his own, and, remaining hidden, made his way secretly home. When he returned, the men of Gwe wanted to go to fight the Optema men before they could attack. They went to Optema, dancing all the way, and arranged to meet the men of Optema formally at the Gwe Parish fight ground.

This was the formal, collective response to an affront: parish facing parish on a dance ground or across a river. The Optema and Gwe fighting men confronted each other from opposite sides of the dance ground. The men had put on paint, they wore cane armor (namia), they wore cassowary feather net bags on the backs of their necks and behind, below the armor, on their posteriors. They carried their bows, barbed arrows for war, and large wooden shields. Garbed like this—bilas bilas nogut tru in P.E.—they danced, they sang, they bared their buttocks at the enemy, they shot arrows.

Then they ran, and began brush fighting. In this form of fighting, men shoot arrows at one another from a distance. They run and dodge in the tall swordgrass [p. 106] (eight feet high), leap to see, and shoot arrows at the enemies when they show themselves. The fighting was done without trying to seize someone, hold him, and have him shot while he is held.

The first person killed was Namatleng. Then Xatep's father was killed—his name was Pobot. One Optema man was killed. Thus the battle ended.

Oksapmin fighting or warfare has two phases. One is the initial massing of men in armed confrontation; the other is the months-long aftermath of raiding by small groups of two or three men acting independently of the parish as a whole. Often, when an affront was not large enough for a bold, formal, collective response, it was met instead by a small revenge raid carried out early in the morning. This could be seen as the second, or endemic, phase of warfare without the first, or acute, phase.

After the first confrontation between Optema and Gwe, the Optema men and their Nerura allies wanted revenge. When the father of Masmat of the Ciuna clan went up the mountain near his house, they followed him and killed him as he was cutting wild pandanus, They erected a burial platform for him and, considering their revenge complete, they viewed the fighting as over.

In the meantime, for fear of being attacked at [p. 107] night, the people of both parishes had deserted their private houses which were dispersed on the parish territory, and each built one large house on its mountain slope for everyone to live in. Each house had round-the-clock armed guards, and each parish began new gardens near the large houses. The gardens were tilled by armed men going in groups of three or four, as were the old gardens.

During this state of war, the enemy parishes would steal up on each others' now unprotected peripheral gardens, break the fences, and uproot sweet potato and taro. War, it was said, was a hungry time.

The mutual anger could last months, taking active forms. It lasted long enough for Tatmop of Gwe to engage in four bush fights, and to have received, and healed, four wounds consecutively: one in the shoulder, one at the temple, one high in the thigh, and one in the upper arm.

Most Oksapmin fighting began at the close combat stage. For the two times in the memory of Gwe Parish men fighting began by dancing en masse, it began ten times with an ambush or close combat, and continued that way.

The fighting between Gwe and Optema did not end with the death of Masmat's father on the mountainside. Some time later, a wound received by an Opteman ally—Abutmat of Nerura Parish—became infected. They had to [p. 108] cut his hurt thigh many times with a bamboo knife, and the pain was acute for a long time. The Nerura men felt sorry for him, and came to Gwe for revenge. A Nerura man, named Apman, killed a young boy of the Getopa clan, named Xaptet.

When finally it was felt by both sides that the fighting had ended, peace was made formally as each side compensated the other for the dead. Death payment was made in stone axe heads obtained from all members of the guilty parishes. The axe heads were laid side by side in rows on opposite sides of the dame dance ground upon which formal fighting began. First one side placed its compensation on the ground and retired, and the other side did likewise; then the first side came forward, took what the other side had given, and retired; finally the second side did the same.


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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