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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

Or, a Mobile Oneness of Part and Whole

Each parish is a community with a complex internal organization. Yet the parishes of Oksapmin are also knit into a social whole, namely, Oksapmin. In this section we will describe that whole and the means by which its parts are joined. We begin with an account of the main [p. 109] subdivisions in Oksapmin in terms of their traditions of hostility and friendship.

Allies and Enemies

The Gaugutiana Valley (see Figure 2, The Parishes of Oksapmin) was divided into two hostile parishes by the river traversing it from west to east. When they fought, the men of Snaptiana fought on the side of the northern parish, and the men of Teranap, who belonged to clans also composing the plurality of Gaugutiana's southern parish, fought on the latter side.

Similarly, when Betiana Parish and Waula Parish fought, Terangap, Mitigana, and sometimes Gaugutiana helped Betiana, and Waula was helped by Arinim. Sometimes Waula was helped also by the parishes in the western half of the Tekin River valley fighting as a unit.

Though these western parishes also fought among themselves, they fought mainly against the parishes of the western end of the Bak River valley. The principal antagonism here was between Divana and Kweptana. Each of them called upon their allied parishes to assist in their battles, but these allies—as Oksapmin allies do—dropped out one by one, with the distant ones earliest, leaving Kweptana and Divana to carry on the fighting alone, until they tired of it.

The relations "ally" and "enemy" while important in Oksapmin are not the only means by which the communities join into larger units. There are a great variety of cross-cutting ties which join them.

Interweaving Ties, or, Dispersal and Connection As One Thing

Rather than being joined by means of segmental principles uniting lineages into larger and larger wholes, such as clans, phratries, and tribes, the people of Oksapmin are joined by a complicated interweaving of ties, described in the following sections.

Parishes Unite by Means of Interdigitating Neighborhoods. The typical Oksapmin parish, split into connected neighborhoods, is united to its neighboring parishes by means of those neighborhoods, as well as by other means. Each neighborhood in Gwe Parish, for instance, has obligations to a different parish outside Gwe. This can be seen in the above section: (3a) "A Fight in Which Gwe Parish Divided Upon Itself." Thus, each neighborhood has obligations not only within the parish, but conflicting obligations outside it. So indirectly, every parish in Oksapmin is connected to every other one by means of their neighborhoods.

Parishes Unite by Means of Interdigitating Clans. Connection between parishes is brought about also by means of clans which cross parish boundaries, as most clans do (see Pigure 11). Gwe Parish has lineages from twelve clans. Many of these clans have lineages in other parishes as well, even as far away as Kuskusap two valleys distant.

These clans do not have any corporate functions or overall structure except that a clan member gives permanent refuge to another clan member if he is driven from his home community, and no clan member can shoot an arrow at another, even if their parishes should be in a pitched battle and both are firing at non-clansmen. Thus, there is a ceiling on the extent to which warfare can disrupt the normal social fabric of Oksapmin.

Parishes Unite by Means of War Limitation. It is a rule in Oksapmin that no parish can be entirely killed or driven off their land by another. When the number of people in a given parish is small, all warfare must cease for it. Only populous parishes can be attacked by other populous parishes. This limits the hostility between parishes.

Parishes Unite by Means of Consanguineal Ties.  The most intense relations between parishes are between neighbors, because more distant parishes can neither anger one another sufficiently to fight nor help one another enough to be very friendly. Those parishes which are close are related consanguineally, and in spite of traditions of vengeance, their blood ties help limit the hostility. One is not allowed to shoot an arrow at a known consanguineal kinsman. Similarly, one cannot shoot at a known close affine.

One Language, One Religion

Unity through Language and Religion. The Oksapmin language group considers itself a unit for fighting the people of Telefolmin and for religious purposes of great importance.

It is said that men would come from every one of the five valleys of Oksapmin to gather at Bukndup, a great tree in Betiana parish, where they would dance and then go en masse to Telefolmin to fight.

It is also said that each parish of Oksapmin possesses a different one of the important ceremonies. Terangap, e.g., had control of earthquake; Kweptana, of sunshine and cloud; and Mitigana of rain and dryness. Without meeting in a large group for ceremonies, then, the parishes of Oksapmin were religiously interdependent.

The Oneness of One and Many

Thus, through a non-centralized or acephalous form of social organiation, Oksapmin, divided into systems of allied and friendly parishes, and into clans, lineages, neighborhoods, kindreds, households, and small groups of friends, maintains an overall unity and may be called a society.

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