Iraqw - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Although the Iraqw recognize kinship units, the most important social and political groups are based on age and gender and local spatial relations. The young men of the masomba must participate in cultivation, house building, cattle raising, and protection of their livestock and comrades from attack. They also organize dances. Membership in this group is based on age and on locality. Usually a masomba consists of twenty or so young men from neighboring houses. The elders are in charge of the organization of ritual, the settling of disputes, the establishment of local boundaries, and convening meetings to discuss the community's welfare.

Political Organization. In precolonial Iraqw society there was no formai structure of authority. Villages consisting of neighborhood groups are the minimum local social and political unit. Neighbors assist each other in farm work and in mutual defense and assistance. Villages put on harvest rites and hold beer parties and festivals and feasts for the ancestors. Above the level of the village, is the county or section ( aya in Iraqw). Within the county, elders from all the villages hold regular meetings to settle disputes and to organize the rituals that maintain the well-being of the county. At the head of the council of elders for a particular county is an elder known as the kahamusmo. He is responsible for calling meetings, supervising rituals, and for allocation of new land to incoming settlers. Upon his death, this position passes to the man whom the kahamusmo designated as his successor. Often this will be his eldest son.

Social Control. The principal means of social control is public opinion. An individual who does something wrong is openly criticized by neighbors and relatives. Where more definite action is called for, elders will prohibit people from speaking to wrongdoers and, in extreme cases, may banish them from the community. Banishment is communicated by the elders' act of placing a thorn branch across the doorway of the offender during the night. Failure to leave after this warning may result in the person's house being burned to the ground.

Conflict. The Iraqw are a peaceful people who have, for the most part, avoided conflict. They have not engaged in cattle raids on their neighbors. Internal fighting was rare, but when bloodshed did occur, the patrilineal relatives of the guilty party had to pay "blood-wealth" to the family of the victim.

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