Mazatec - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The profound inequalities relating to landownership and the resources to make land productive, as well as differentiated access to services, characterize the Mazatec as a highly stratified ethnic group. This stratification is especially marked in the lowlands. Large and medium-sized landholders (with more than 100 hectares under cultivation) and wholesale merchants, called shuta nya ( principales ), are linked to the regional and national middle class and have large amounts of money. It is generally the members of this group who hold the government posts in town and borough councils and the more important religious cargos. The shuta yuna ("those who own something") include small businessmen and smallholders who grow commercial products on 3 to 5 hectares of land. The shuta shun'da (poor people) own no land and are hired as day workers on coffee and sugar plantations. They generally live as "settlers" in the communities, that is, on land that has been lent or given them by the community.

Political Organization. The largest political organizational unit is the municipio, which is generally in the hands of mestizos or, in some cases, wealthy Indians. There is no government that could be called typically indigenous, but the most honest and capable elders meet around the town hall; they have served their communities in public or religious posts, and it is they who constitute the Council of Elders, or Chotj Chinka. This council, together with the president of the municipio, can designate the alcaldes and other members of the town hall. Elders on the council are generally men who head patrilocal extended families. Only rarely does one find two elders who are members of the same family on the Council of Elders. Any problem that affects the community or the municipio must be dealt with by the Council.

Social Control. The norms established by religion in the form of myths and ritual practices are important forms of social control. It is through them that a great portion of daily life is ruled.

Conflict. The main conflicts in the area are over the demarcation of boundaries of the community's landed property. The chief authority with the power to resolve such conflicts is the Council of Elders.

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