Mam - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Mam social organization centers on the patrilineal, patrilocal extended family and the territorial, largely endogamous municipio. Between these two units lie exogamous, patrilineal surname groups that in the past may have constituted lineages or clans, and residential hamlets ideally made up of clusters of patrilineally related households that form as fathers build houses for their married sons. Hamlets can become the nucleus of new municipios, as has happened with at least eight Mam municipios since the Conquest. Class distinction within Mam communities continues to grow, yet the line between rich and poor, landed and landless, subsistence farmer and petty commodity producer, remains relative and permeable. Racial prejudice and hostility between Indians and Ladinos can also mitigate such divisions within Mam communities.

Political Organization. Mam political organization consists of municipio-based hierarchies of administrative and ritual offices of four or more levels with progressively fewer, more burdensome, positions at each level. Ideally, all men in the municipio take turns carrying these year-long cargos (burdens), beginning as youths in the lowest positions, then advancing from one office to the next in life-long public careers. In the past, heavy ritual expenses meant cargoholders had to "rest" after their year in office to recoup debts and to save for the even greater expenses of their next cargo. Those who completed service on all levels of the hierarchy became the town elders who chose new cargoholders each year and made all important decisions affecting the town. After the advent of nominally popular elections in Mam municipios during the 1940s, party politics slowly replaced the ritual obligations of traditional cargos with the bureaucratic legalities of the Guatemalan state. Despite the changes, cargo hierarchies persist as a way of defining membership in the community and of gaining local recognition. Political ideology or party loyalty still matters less to Mam than struggles for local advantage because, however factionalized, the municipio remains the focus of Mam politics and the basis for Mam negotiations with a national government they have long considered an instrument of Ladino domination.

Social Control. In larger towns with detachments of the National Police, social control lies formally with legal authorities, but in most municipios and hamlets, local Mam officials and elders exercise great latitude in resolving conflicts and punishing offenders as long as the parties involved agree to abide by their judgments. In serious crimes or intractable conflicts where such consensus is impossible, cases go to the national courts.

Conflict. Conflicts commonly involve jurisdictional disputes between municipios and between town centers and their outlying hamlets; political feuds between different factions; religious disputes between Catholics, Protestants, and traditionalists; and personal quarrels over land and sexual indiscretions. Resentments, especially personal ones, often smolder until drunken quarrels on market days or fiestas bring them out into the open.


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janis falco
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Oct 24, 2014 @ 7:19 pm
Why are so many Mam speaking teenage boys and girls coming to the USA? I am going to become their teacher next week and I am confused since it appears that most live in small towns and not large cities where they might encounter gangs and drug lords. Can you explain. Thanks.

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