The Abelam tribe is a group of about 40,000 people living in the East Sepik Province in north-central Papua New Guinea. One of about 1,000 indigenous groups in the country, the Abelam were isolated from the outside world until a German explorer discovered their home shortly after World War I. European missionaries, trade goods and diseases followed. World War II brought Japanese, Australian and American soldiers and battles to the region. Today, the region is densely populated, and tribal, local and national politics are all connected.
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Papua New Guinea is an independent member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. An elected governor-general represents Queen Elizabeth II, but his duties are mainly ceremonial. The prime minister is the head of government. All adults age 18 and older are eligible to vote, and voting is mandatory.
East Sepik is one of 20 provinces in the country, each headed by a premier. Each town and village elects its own local council. Although the national constitution provides equal civil rights to all, it is a patriarchal society and women still face much discrimination on the local level.
Tribal politics have a significant impact on national politics. More than 20 political parties are represented in the national assembly. Parties are based on tribal membership instead of political ideology.
Abelam Political Organization
The Abelam are a patriarchal and polygamous society. A group of nuclear families within the same clan live near to one another, and several clans may live in a single village. Nemandu, influential men in the village, hold most of the political power. Public speaking skills are important in becoming a nemandu. The nemandu transfer their power to their eldest sons through tribal rituals. Since voting is mandatory, a strong tribe can produce a powerful nemandu, who can influence the local council, which in turn influences the relevant political party and thus, the national assembly.
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