Amuzgo - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The social life of Amuzgo communities is based on the relationship between land organization, agriculture, the family, marriage, social traditions, compadrazgo (ritual coparenthood), the cargo system, and the ritual cycle of religious festivals.

Political Organization. Since the seventeenth century, when macehuales (members of the peasant class) became local authorities in cabildos (village governments) and other governing bodies, an internal social hierarchy has determined the rules for ascent in status through a long chain of political and religious offices (cargos). Such a system persists among the Amuzgo and is linked to national political structures. The cargo system requires a young man coming of age to perform certain community work, called fajina in Guerrero and tequio in Oaxaca. Later on, he undertakes cargos such as those of topil (messenger), policía de machete (policeman armed only with a machete), policía urbano (policeman not armed with a machete), and cabo, sargento, and comandante (chiefs of groups of police). Still later, he will acquire higher status with cargos like juez de barrio (barrio judge), member of the sociedad de padres de familia (school advisory board), presidente de bienes comunales (overseer of community property), comandante de arma, member of the junta patriótica, alcalde segundo, or presidente municipal (chief executive officer of a municipio). The highest rung of the hierarchy is reached by an individual of advanced age who becomes a principal and member of the consejo de ancianos (council of elders). Mayordomías (stewardships) during religious festivals are usually the cargos by means of which individuals acquire prestige. The names and the particular functions of cargos vary from one community to the next. The introduction of political models from outside the community through opportunities for greater social mobility have created conflicts between the cargo system and political forms from outside.

Social Control. The maintenance of internal social order involves elements of the cargo system, magicoreligious beliefs ( nahual ism), and even blood vengeance. Local indigenous authorities are in charge of resolving disputes arising from accusations of harm caused by nahualism or witchcraft, animals entering milpas, theft, unsanctioned sexual relations, and debt payment, usually by mediation during negotiations between the two parties. Only seldom are conflicts—even serious ones—transferred to higher legal authorities.

Conflict. The most common social conflicts arise from political arguments and situations involving land tenure or rivalry between individuals. In some Amuzgo communities, especially during the latter part of the 1970s, agrarian movements caused conflict between the indigenous population and mestizo landholders. Conflicts over local political control can crop up because of the way positions of authority are distributed between the indigenous and mestizo populations. In some areas, powerful caciques or factional competition between political parties create conflict. Violence is a frequent resort in personal disputes; justice is sought through vengeance, and homicide is often the result.

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