Social Organization

The Maring were divided into more than twenty local groups which consisted of populations ranging from 80 to 900 people. Each group had its own well-defined territory stretching from the mountain ridges down to the river banks at the bottom of the valleys. Thus each group had direct access to the whole range of ecological niches.

Diagram of the northern slope of the Bismarck Mountains indicating clan territories


The Maring did not marry within their own local groups. Each local group was exogamous, so its members were bound in an elaborate web of kinship through marriage ties with members of other groups. The preferred form of marriage was direct sister exchange. This bound two families closely and put a certain pressure on each young couple to remain married, lest their separation require the other couple to also dissolve the marriage.

The exchange of women was also accompanied by the giving of pork and wealth items - ceremonial stone adzes, steel axes, shells, and, increasingly, coins and bills of the colonial government.

Frequently, the young women of a group married the young men of an adjacent group. Since allies in warfare were most often created on the basis of kinship, a pattern of adjacent pairs of allied groups was formed.
Rights to land use were inherited both through a person's mother and through a person's father. Thus, people could make gardens on the territory of at least two groups. This freedom of movement was especially important when population built up in one area, putting presssure on the local garden land.

The periodic fighting which broke out between groups was regulated by a ritual cycle limiting the hostilities. Nevertheless, the history of amity and enmity between groups structured the social interaction of individuals, and attendant food taboos created a complex social fabric.





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