Nahua of the Huasteca - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Nahua social organization can be conceived of as a series of concentric rings surrounding the individual nuclear- or extended-family household. One step removed from the household is the nonresidential extended family. The next largest subdivision is a toponymic group composed of residents of a named subarea in a community. These subareas are based on residence, may entail shared ritual obligations, and usually include nonkin. In some cases, the toponym functions as a type of surname for residents. Smaller Nahua communities are often divided into upper and lower halves, which constitute an extension of the social circle beyond named subareas. Larger communities may be divided into two or more barrios, and these can be important extrakin groupings as well. The entire village or town constitutes the next encompassing circle. Daughter communities, usually established by families in search of land, extend the social circle outside of the local community. These may serve as a buffer between individual communities and the municipio and state levels of government.

Political Organization. Larger towns are invariably led by mestizo elites, with Nahua occupying lesser positions in the hierarchy. A cargo system or civil-religious hierarchy often characterizes larger communities. In this system, individuals work their way up a series of unpaid political offices and sponsorships of saints' celebrations. In traditional villages, an informal council of male elders may be looked to for leadership, particularly in times of crisis. Ejidos are run by elected political officials as mandated by federal and state law.

Social Control. Most social control is effectively handled within the community by means of gossip, accusations of sorcery, and the threat of ostracism. More serious offenses often result in the person having to leave the community for indefinite periods. In the severest cases, local authorities may bring an offender to officials of the municipio for trial and punishment.

Conflict. Disputes over access to scarce land resources are a common feature of many Nahua communities. Community members may band together in the face of external threats, but unsettled internal conflicts inevitably surface. Factions form along kinship lines and, if violence erupts, entire extended families may be forced to leave the community.

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