Huli Social Organization
by Ron Meshanko
Traditionally the Huli do not live in villages. Rather, individuals have randomly established dwellings throughout their clan unit territory. Tari the largest Huli town, as well as the towns of Gumu, Burani and Koroba are European innovations, as is the community market, now a weekly social event throughout the Huli.
The Huli organize themselves into genealogical units called hame ignini (children of brothers). 1 These socio-territorial units or clans are composed of cognatic members (damene) who are descendants of a common apical clan founder and non-cognatic members. Cognatic descendants are further distinguished into agnatic and non-agnatic groups. Agnates are either directly related by blood to a brother of the apical founder (tene damene: source + relations) or are indirectly related to the apical founder through three more patrilineal links from a female agnatic ancestor (tene hamene: source + seminal and uterine half-brothers and all parallel cousins.) 2 Non-agnatic cognates are matrilineal kin (yamuwini damene: mother’s relatives.) Non-cagnatic clan members (tare: others) are affinal relatives and unrelated friends. 3
Chart 1 describes the descent affiliations and characteristics of these clan members. Every clan member has a right to use common clan ground and is obliged to settle internal disputes peacefully as well as defend clan territory.
Each clan is composed of sub-units or clan units made up of the descendants of one male or female ancestor of the apical founder. The clan unit is the effective political unit of Huli society that wages war, makes peace and pays indemnities independently of other sections of the clan. Members of the clan unit are obliged to defend the clan unit, contribute to indemnity payments and participate in communal rituals.
Chart II on the structure of Huli society describes the composition of clan units and the residential patterns of unit members. The chart shows that members need not reside on clan unit territory and that many, in fact, do not. However, non-resident members must fulfill clan unit obligations if they desire to seek the help of the clan unit in time of conflict. Most resident members are multi-local in that they also have residency in other clan units. However, non-resident members must fulfill clan unit obligations if they desire to seek the help of the clan unit in conflict. Most resident members are multi-local in that they also have residency in other clan units. They have houses, gardens, and pigs in more than one clan unit and frequently move from place to place to strengthen family ties.
Clan associations are loosely defined groups of clans that combine efforts and resources at ritual celebrations such as tege pulu and ega wandari gamu rites.
For descriptions of the various types of Huli ascribed and achieved ritual and secular leadership roles, see types of male leaders.
(Photo courtesy of Michael Main)
- All of this information is derived from R. Glasse, Huli of Papua, pp. 41-45.
- The Huli have an inclusive kinship system. For instance, people who in European cultures are considered half-brothers, half-sisters, and cousins, may all be reckoned as brothers and sisters by the Huli. Also, individuals that other cultures might label their ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, are seen by the Huli as their ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’. Mihai Andrei. “Portraits of the World’s Tribes – Before They Fade Away.” ZME Science. ZMC Science.com.
- For a detailed presentation on Huli social organization using one parish as an example, see: Stephen Frankel. The Huli response to illness. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986., pp. 38-46