Tzotzil and Tzeltal of Pantelhó - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. During the nineteenth century, the Indians, as a class, were impoverished peons with little control over their lives. Marriage, residence, and other aspects of their existence were subject to control by Ladino ranchers. A strong sense of shared poverty persists. High status among Indians was traditionally achieved through community service, both civil and religious. Although these patterns remain evident, class differences are becoming more salient. Three classes are widely recognized: the landless, the subsistence farmers, and those who grow coffee and/or raise cattle.

Political Organization. Political organization closely follows the overall Mexican pattern. A presidente municipal (mayor of the municipio) is elected every three years and, together with a síndico (vice-mayor), a treasurer, and six regidores (aldermen), controls municipio finances, dispenses justice, and represents the municipio to the outside world. These are paid political offices. In monthly meetings, representatives from each hamlet discuss issues with municipio leaders. Within their hamlets, these agentes, who are chosen yearly, settle disputes and, with the help of secretaries and various public-works directors, plan hamlet activities. These are all voluntary positions.

Social Control. Social control is effected at one of three hierarchical levels: hamlet, municipio, and state. Although hamlet agentes can impose no sanctions, they are often successful at mediating internal disputes. Minor crimes and disputes within municipio boundaries are adjudicated by the municipio mayor or judge, who can impose fines and/or brief jail sentences. Serious crimes are often referred directly to the state judiciary or the legal section of the Indian-affairs agency. Land disputes that cannot be mediated locally go to the judiciary or to the land-reform office. There is a general desire among Indians to resolve their problems locally, but major conflicts, especially those crossing ethnic lines, are usually taken to outside authorities.

Conflict. Most conflicts involve land, and most of these conflicts, at least through the 1980s, pitted Indian against Ladino. The Indian strategy to obtain land was to invade, en masse, a Ladino ranch, harvest the coffee, kill and eat the cattle, plant milpas, and build houses. Then they would either offer to purchase the land or petition the government to grant it as an ejido. Ladinos, in response and sometimes in anticipation, would destroy Indian milpas and even whole communities. Recently, land disputes between Indians have increased.

Other sources of conflict are marital infidelity and accusations of witchcraft. The former are usually settled between the households involved; the latter frequently involve the assassination of the suspected witch. Theft is very rare.


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