Social organization is linked to land tenure of kinfolk, feudalistic traditions and the church, ethnic division of labor, gender, and age status. The peasant class is divided between landowning farmers, who, even though they have no formal political power, can thwart distant government power by their rural remoteness, poor roads, and weight of numbers, and the sharecroppers, who have no such power against local landlords. Fear of a person who engages in a skilled occupation, tebib (lit., "the knowing one," to whom supernatural secrets are revealed), enters into class stratification, especially for blacksmiths, pottery makers, and tanners. They are despised as members of a lower caste, but their products are needed, and therefore they are tolerated. Below them on the social scale are the descendants of slaves who used to be imported from the negroid Shanqalla of the Sudanese border, or the Nilotic Barya, so that both terms became synonymous with "slave."
Social control is traditionally maintained, and conflict situations are resolved, in accordance with the power hierarchy. Judges interpret laws subjectively and make no sharp distinction between civil and criminal procedures. In addition to written Abyssinian and church laws, there are unwritten codes, such as the payment of blood money to the kin of a murder victim. An aggrieved person could appeal to a higher authority by lying prostrate in his path and shouting "abyet" (hear me). Contracts did not have to be written, provided there were reliable witnesses. To obtain a loan or a job, a personal guarantor ( was ) is necessary, and the was can also act as bondsman to keep an accused out of jail. The drama of litigation, to talk well in court, is much appreciated. Even children enact it with the proper body language of pointing a toga at the judge to emphasize the speech.