Chinantec - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Although considerable variation is seen among communities, the core of all Chinantec social Organization is the nuclear family, with a tendency toward extension through Catholic compadrazgo , or godparent sponsorship. In the past, many Chinantec communities were organized around corporate groups, such as barrios, age grades, and status groups (e.g., widows). In some communities, barrio structures were elaborate and could include socio-ritual organizations and marriage prohibitions. Today barrios are of small importance. Age grades formerly contributed to men's status; after successfully fulfilling a series of ranked community responsibilities, they became respected elders, or ancianos. Such individuals were viewed as collectively responsible for the community's welfare. Today, as in the past, women in most communities do not participate in formal political activities, but they are not submissive to men and enjoy high social status.

Political Organization. Chinantec political organization, as throughout rural Mesoamerica, consists of a civil-religious hierarchy ( cargo system). In most communities the post-Conquest pattern survives: all married men are obliged to serve in unremunerated public office; men living in outlying hamlets usually must serve in the center. All matters affecting community welfare are discussed in public assemblies composed of all men under age 50. A council of elders, which survives in conservative communities, is an extraconstitutional body responsible for protecting the community from internal dissension and the threat of supernatural forces. Although the elders cannot override the municipal president, no major decision is made without consulting them. In the past, the collectivity of ancianos appointed officeholders and had the authority to sanction those who refused to serve. Today state law requires that town officers be elected by universal suffrage. In less conservative communities, the president and elected authorities are now counseled by groups of bilingual, middle-aged married men.

Social Control. Traditional discipline was not harsh and rewards and punishments for both children and adults were generally verbal, with the exception of the public execution of witches accused of causing epidemics (e.g., of whooping cough). The chief concern of the police was to prevent quarrels, fires, or other damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Today, punishment is still lenient. The ritual elders, in conjunction with municipal authorities, are responsible for maintaining the public peace. Gossip and fear of witchcraft are the main means of social control.

Conflict. The Chinantec were not and are not today violently competitive; particularly in the highlands, homicide and even physical fighting are rare. Nevertheless, long-standing friction between neighboring Chinantec communities, between head towns and dependent hamlets, and even between barrios continues to be common. In communities where both Chinantec and mestizos reside, intergroup relations are fraught with conflict.

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