Social Organization. Kin relations and village structure play an important role in organizing everyday interactions. In the precolonial and colonial periods the highest-level rulers could claim prestige and high social status, but Gayo society before and after independence has been characterized by basically egalitarian sociopolitical relations among individuals and among villages.
Political Organization. The Gayo homeland has been part of the republic of Indonesia since independence in 1945. Most of the Gayo homeland lies in the district ( kabupaten ) of Central Aceh in the province of Aceh. The homeland also includes parts of three other districts. Each district has a head, under whom serve the heads of subdistricts ( kecamatan ) and villages ( desa ). For the most part the village corresponds to the basic Gayo political unit, the sarak opat, meaning "four elements" and referring to the three village officials plus the remaining villagers. In the precolonial period the homeland was divided among six domains, each with a domain lord ( kajurun ); the authority and prestige of these lords varied greatly.
Social Control. The importance placed on avoiding embarrassment and shame exerts a strong guiding and restraining influence on conduct, as does the role of the kinship system in organizing respect, avoidance, and cooperation. The Indonesian police and army maintain a presence in all subdistrict capitals and exercise their police powers readily.
Conflict. In the precolonial system conflicts between villages were settled by public-resolution sessions and sometimes were mediated by a third party. The colonial and Indonesian governments assumed jurisdiction over all criminal matters.