Tonowi Is to Buymi

It is interesting to find two political systems that are so distinctly different from one another while certain aspects of these systems are so incredibly alike. The tonowi of the Kapauku from western New Guinea is the title given to a political leader. He has considerable power and influence over the people, and though it might seem that this is where the similarity to our political leaders ends, this is not the case. The manner in which the tonowi acquires power is strikingly similar to the way our members of higher offices do, and though each society deals with the issue in their own way, the underlying social implications are practically the same.

As far as culture, political organization, and economics is concerned, the Kapauku and Americans could almost be considered opposites. Yet they share a common ideal that we Americans apparently hold, and that is that wealth equals power. Though we may not like to admit it, nor do we want to accept it, those with the money make most of the rules in the United States. Just look at the last two candidates for president.

With the Kapauku, wealth is also an important factor when it comes to choosing leadership. The name tonowi literally means the “rich one” (Haviland, 330), a no-nonsense approach to what is important to the Kapauku. The male (and only a male) who wishes to become tonowi must have many of the characteristics we ideally seek in a president, such as charm, eloquence, and generosity. The more impressive characteristics such as bravery are not required, but would definitely be considered a plus. The most important thing to the Kapauku, however, is generosity. The rich can not stay rich without giving some back to the community. Though I would argue that this is a necessity of a great American leader, it does not necessarily mean that this has been the case, but that is a whole other issue.

Though they officially achieve power in different ways, the effect is the same. Tonowi grow rich and popular enough that they are able to loan money to people, which gives them a certain level of political capital over them (Haviland, 330). Our presidents are elected to office, which is an entirely different sociological dynamic. Most similarly, public opinion can turn on the tonowi or the president, leaving them without their previous status and level of power.

List of Works Cited:
Haviland, William A. (2002). Cultural Anthropology (10th edition)


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