Tz'utujil - Sociopolitical Organization

Political Organization. As has been the case in virtually all the region's Mayan communities, until recently political organization in Tz'utujil towns revolved around the civil-religious hierarchy known as the cofradía system. Participants in that system ascended a hierarchical ladder of alternating political and religious offices, eventually attaining the status of principal (elder). Males and females participated in the system. To weaken the autonomy of rural communities, in 1945 the Guatemalan government declared it illegal for cofradías to have a civil component. That action, combined with religious competition from Protestants and orthodox Catholics alike has gradually eroded the cofradía system. In all Tz'utujil towns, the primary locus of community political organization is now democratic politics, with the office of mayor (alcalde) being the highest elected office in a given municipalidade.

Social Control. Social control in Tz'utujil towns is exercised through formal and informal means. On the one hand, gossip, envy, and ridicule exert considerable potency in routinizing Tz'utujil behavior. On the other hand, all of the towns are subject to the laws and authority of the Guatemalan state. That reality is underscored by the country's militarization owing to its civil war.

Conflict. Certainly the most grievous modern conflict in the Tz'utujil area stems from the civil war and has pitted the forces of the state against guerrillas of the Organization of People in Arms (ORPA), with most of the population caught in the middle. In addition, resentment over earlier land conflicts between San Juan and San Pedro continues to fester. Several Tz'utujil towns are rent by bitter internal religious divisions, particularly between Catholics and Protestants, but also between cofradía members and Catholics who do not belong to cofradías and between members of different Protestant sects.

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