Shona - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Shona societies are primarily organized around kinship. Relations between nonkin may be formalized in bond friendship, which imposes mutual obligations of hospitality, material assistance, and certain ritual services. Heavy tasks, such as thatching a house, clearing or plowing a field or reaping the harvest, may be performed by work parties, at which neighbors work and are rewarded with supplies of millet beer. Attendance at such parties imposes obligations of reciprocation.

Political Organization. The principal Shona political unit was the chiefdom. A hereditary chief was ultimately responsible for the distribution of land, for appeasing the territorial spirit guardians, and for settling disputes. Larger chiefdoms were sometimes subdivided into wards, each with its ward headman. The details of distributing land and settling minor disputes were left to the village headmen, but in the colonial era his main function became keeping a tax register.

Although the traditional political authorities are still recognized in order to maintain Shona culture and values, they now have little power. Dispute settlement is now in the hands of elected presiding officers, and land distribution is controlled by government administrators.

Social Control. Serious crimes, such as incest and homicide, used to be in the control of the guardian spirits, through their mediums. All other offenses were dealt with by a hierarchy of courts from the village level to the chiefly level. Now offenses are dealt with by a hierarchy of government-controlled courts, from the community level to the High Court.

Conflict. Warfare between the scattered Shona chiefdoms was rare. A number of Shona groups suffered from raids by Ndebele armies during the nineteenth century. Tensions between the Shona and the Ndebele have not yet been totally resolved.

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