Mixtec - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The basic social unit of Mixtec peasant communities today is the household. Households are linked to one another through reciprocal exchange of goods and labor, marriage, ritual kinship, and corporate interest. The municipal subunits of ranchería and agencia, as well as the barrio, often form intermediate organizations between household and community.

Political Organization. In settlements where Mixtec speakers predominate, leadership and decision making rest in the hands of officers of the civil-religious hierarchy. It is often the case in these areas that ultimate authority rests with a group of tañuu and ñañuu, men and women who have passed through all the offices of the hierarchy and are now respected elders. Elsewhere, a single individual, or cacique, may control local government, often by being a broker between the state bureaucracy and the local village. In rural areas with mestizo populations, the power of Mixtec speakers in local government is usually limited.

Social Control. Gossip, public ridicule, the threat of evil spells, and fear of being accused of witchcraft are important mechanisms of social control in village life. The assignment of offices in the civil-religious hierarchy to those who violate community norms is another very effective form of punishment, since work in these offices requires a substantial expenditure of time and money. In the case of serious infractions, such as the theft of property, local authorities may decide that incarceration and the payment of fines is necessary. Habitual criminals may be subjected to banishment or some form of corporal punishment. In most areas, murderers are sent to the district capital for trial and punishment.

Conflict. Intervillage conflict is widespread throughout southern Mexico, but it is particularly intense in Oaxaca, where disputes between neighboring communities over land boundaries have continued for hundreds of years. These disputes have sometimes degenerated into open warfare, resulting in deaths and the destruction of property. Within communities, conflicts frequently take place between community members over land, with drunkenness and witchcraft accusations often playing precipitating roles. Some Mixtec communities have homicide rates that exceed those recorded in the most violent cities in the United States.

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