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Just TalkGossip, Meetings, and Power in a Papua New Guinea Village$
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Karen Brison

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780520077003

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520077003.001.0001

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Leadership, Authority, and “Egalitarianism”

Leadership, Authority, and “Egalitarianism”

(p.189) Chapter Nine Leadership, Authority, and “Egalitarianism”
Just Talk

Karen J. Brison

University of California Press

This chapter examines principles of hierarchy and mechanisms of equality in Kwanga society, and also reexamines some of the literature on leadership in Melanesia. The relative “egalitarianism” of Melanesian societies is often noted, but the concept is ambiguous and takes on different meaning in different contexts. Leadership achieved through demonstration of superiority had intrinsic constraints and was unlikely to last even for an individual's lifetime. Expanding his dominance involved the big-man in increasingly large prestations and was likely to alienate his supporters, whose harvests he tapped; this also became increasingly difficult as his physical strength waned with age. It was only where an ambitious individual “came to power” by attaining an “office” of legitimate leadership with associated sanctions, that power could be consolidated over time and space.

Keywords:   hierarchy, equality, Kwanga, leadership, Melanesia, egalitarianism, superiority, power, office

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