Otomí of the Sierra - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Kinship, residence, and religion are the primary forces organizing the society. Family-to-family compadrazgo (ritual coparenthood) knits the society together. Neighborhoods are organized in a peaceful manner by local oratory groups. A core family owning an oratory with images will select another person to be the ritual godfather. Supporters of the owning family and the supporters of the godfather regard themselves and refer to each other as compadres during the annual fiesta of the image.

Political Organization. The vast majority of the population are Otomí Indians, but they share political power with a small mestizo elite. Profits to be made from trade, cattle ranching, and coffee production have attracted such elites into the sierra. Municipio government may represent Indian interests, but it more often reflects the interests of a town-dwelling mestizo elite.

The Indian villages are the seats of Indian political power. The political organization of the Otomí villages has changed in modern times. After the Revolution, powerful armed caciques ruled the villages and exploited the people. The caciques were driven out, and the villages set up governments supported by religious cargo systems. The cargo system allowed men to exchange wealth for political power through the sponsorship of religious rituals. The religious redistributive philosophy of the cargo systems is being challenged by Protestantism and other reforms. The power of the elders who gained authority from cargo systems is waning; civil officers are now often elected by the citizens of the village rather than appointed by the elders.

In a village, the maximal authorities are a group of elders and a judge ( juez ). The hamlets have "judges" who are executive officers with limited judicial powers; they take serious cases to the municipio president or to authorities in a nearby village or town.

Social Control. Age is the primary source of authority. Older persons are often called "grandfather" or "grandmother" as a sign of respect. Although codes of conduct are unwritten, issues of proper behavior are constantly discussed, and young people receive counsel from their parents and others. Assisted by elders as necessary, the judge of a village hears a wide variety of cases, including breach of contract, domestic disputes, assault, abandonment, and failure to perform civic duty. Persons may be jailed or fined if they do not obey the village authorities.

Conflict. The major source of conflict is land: neighbors may quarrel over the boundaries between their fields, and families may split apart over land inheritances. Other sources of conflict are breaches of commercial contracts, elopements, and adultery.

Interfamily feuding is maintained by a cycle of revenge. Sorcery is considered the equivalent of physical assault, so death from disease may be avenged by murder.

Conflicts are most easily resolved if they take place in a village, where the authorities can intervene. In the hamlets, conflicts can go on for generations without resolution. The effectiveness of municipio authorities in resolving conflicts varies with the degree of corruption of the judicial system. It is common for state-appointed judges to take bribes.

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