An age grade consists of a group of men and women who are all within a 3 or 4 year age bracket. Everybody in the village belongs to an age grade which has its own chiefs and committees. These age grades are formed when people reach about 18 years old and typically consist of 20-30 people. They meet weekly, usually on the same day every week, to have drinks and basically hang out.
Each week an age grade is selected to protect the village from any danger, this is mostly a traditional routine connected to the historical risk of raids from neighbouring communities. At least that’s what it used to be like. These days the age grade can be recruited to carry out important maintenance work around the village like clearing the road or conveying goods for a community project(like wood, sand for cement mixing, etc). The Chiefs tend to appoint certain age grades to certain activities that may require community effort. Age grades also have a special importance in that your age grade tends to be your closest peers. If you have a burial or an occasion to host, your age grade will assist you in sourcing funds and organizing the event. The older the age grade, the stronger the bond within the age grade. There are a few age grades with only 5-10 people in them and they have considerable power and influence in the community due to their age an experience.
I’ve been presented with a few opportunities to join an age grade(no big deal) but to be honest, it seems like a sham. First of all, you have to pay to gain entry. Then you have to present goods(like a crate of soda, a goat, etc.). And then once you are part of the age grade you have to commit money each week toward buying kai kai for the group to drink and be ready to serve your age grade members at any time they may need you. Now, I’m all for being a team player and having a nice tight knit group of friends but I also see a lot of opportunists in these age grades and sadly it tends to be one or two members sucking all the resources dry. Then again, I’m the ultimate bottom feeder since I have no responsibility to any age grade yet enjoy all the benefits of the community. So we’ll see. It’s not cheap to join(and maintain membership) but it might be worth it eventually just to solidify myself as a true community member. Now, the real difficult part is choosing which age grade to join, since several of my friends are spread through different age grades. Oh, the decisions I am faced with.