Chatino - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Chatino are an ethnic group within a nation-state organized along the lines of race and class. As Indians and peasants, they are marginalized to the lowest rungs on the nation's social totem pole. That said, within their communities, family, residence, status, and wealth provide the foundations of social organization. In their agrarian communities, because of virolocal residence, related males tend to occupy clusters of households. Within the community, a family's status derives from men's service in a hierarchy of civil and religious offices that organize age-grades. All men in the course of their lifetime are expected to serve in offices at each level of the age-grade until they ultimately become elders of the community. As officeholders must pay the costs of their service themselves, the status they achieve reflects not only their age-grade level, but their wealth. Because the wealthy can afford the costs of the more prestigious offices, they tend to have more distinguished careers and higher status than the poor. A man's service requires that his wife join his efforts, and her status therefore usually mirrors that of her husband.

Political Organization. Civil and religious hierarchies organize most Chatino communities. These hierarchies consist of two ladders with four to five rungs of civil and religious offices. Most civil posts are mandated by the state constitution (e.g., presidente, alcaldes, regidores, tesorero, secretary, chief of police) ; however, their numbers and their ranking in the hierarchy are local traditions and thus subject to local definition, as are those of subsidiary offices (e.g., tequitlatos, topiles). Religious offices (e.g., mayordomos ) derive from the Chatino relationship with the Catholic church. Mayordomos, for instance, pay for the costs of fiestas held for the saints. Because the community requires all men to serve, willingly or not, in civil and religious posts, "elections" are based on the previous offices men have held and the number of years that have passed since their last period of service. Men who refuse to serve may be jailed until they accept the post to which they have been elected. After serving in the highest level of offices, men become members of a council of elders who are consulted on important matters. Although the national political parties have attempted to influence local affairs, these efforts have met with only limited success in communities in which civil-religious hierarchies are still intact.

Social Control. Children are socialized from an early age into the norms of proper conduct. They are taught that the gods will punish misbehavior with disease, catastrophe, and death. Moreover, individuals who violate social norms face both informal and formai sanctions. Usually gossip and ostracism are enough to control improper behavior; however, serious violations may bring the matter to the attention of local authorities. Within Chatino communities, local authorities usually attempt to mediate the disputes brought before them. If their attempts are unsuccessful, they may pass the case to state police or the district courts.

Conflict. Although conflicts existed between communities and large plantations, especially over land, until the adoption of coffee as a cash crop by Chatino communities, internal conflicts were rare. Beginning in the 1930s and intensifying in the 1950s, the Chatino began to plant coffee trees on their communal lands. As this process in essence privatized communal lands, conflicts internal to these communities over access to land sent homicide rates soaring as blood feuds divided many communities. Since 1950, homicide rates in Chatino communities have ranged from 284 to 511 per 100,000 or 16 to 29 times the national average.

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