Wapisiana - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Traditionally, Wapisiana men traveled more extensively than women, conducting trading expeditions and engaging with other men in transactions involving cassava graters, dogs, and other valued objects. Exchange put men into direct contact not only with Wapisiana of other villages but also with Indians of other groups and, later, with non-Indians. Thus, men engaged in social relations on a broader geographical plane and at a higher, regional level of sociopolitical organization than did women. Since intergroup trade has declined, regional political organization has provided a new context for intergroup relations and a new means for men to become important actors and communicators. Within their own households, men have traditionally commanded the labor of their wives and daughters, unmarried sons, and younger sons-in-law. A man's daughters' husbands still perform bride-service for a year or more, and this service contributes to a man's material capacity for leadership and to his prestige.

Political Organization. Traditional leadership was an achieved status with several components. Old men gave advice and directed action insofar as they could specify the proper way to behave or perform a task. Men who spoke well represented the settlement to strangers and negotiated with them. A third form of leadership involved a man or woman initiating an activity by personally beginning to work. Nowadays, each Brazilian village has an elected chief whose position is formalized by FUNAI. Indians may vote, and they are courted by low-level local politicians. In 1985, for the first time, a Wapisiana man won a local election.

Social Control. The injunction against coercion is so strong that parents neither compel their children to take medicine nor remove knives from their hands against their wishes. Another social law, however, just as fundamental requires Wapisianas to be together, share resources, and carry a fair share of the work. Those who violate these principles risk being accused of sorcery or threatened with it.

Conflict. Withdrawal is the common, traditional means of resolving interpersonal conflicts, and village fission is the means for dissipating interfamily tension. Since Wapisiana settlements have been reduced to scattered parcels of land surrounded by non-Indian ranches, it is no longer possible to split and re-form villages. Thus, it is more difficult now to resolve conflict. There are also new sources of conflict such as the competition among missionaries of different faiths over Indian worshipers and the introduction of cash and expensive goods into the regional economy. Within the village, it is still the older men, and the elected chief in particular, who mediate local conflicts such as those involving theft or inappropriate marriage. Outside the delineated settlement, Wapisiana are subject to Brazilian law. The Wapisiana find themselves embroiled in conflicts with ranchers and the territorial and federal governments, frequently over settlement and land use. They work with national indigenous groups toward resolving these problems.


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