Yukateko - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The more complex hierarchy of the pre-Columbian period changed to a system of local governance at the community or regional level, which has persisted from colonial times to today, as a result of the social and physical isolation of the Indians by the dominant Hispanics. Local prestige is attainable with age, by being skilled, or by having likable personal characteristics, such as being able to converse well. Formally organized social events center on the church, as during certain fiestas, where gremios (religious groups) carry the burden ( kúuc ) of celebrating their saint through the preparation of food and care of the saint's ritual paraphernalia. The socios, or those in charge of such groups, enhance their status by bearing this burden well. Organized cooperation is also characteristic of the ejido group, which is managed at the local level by the comisario ejidal, who coordinates access to federal ejido farmlands and assigns labor to be performed as service to the community.

Political Organization. After the encomienda system of landlord rule ended with the Caste War and the Mexican Revolution, the new federal system became the political milieu for the Yukateko. The municipio is controlled by its largest community, which is called the cabecera, or head, and is governed by the municipal president. At the village level, a comisario (commissioner) represents local authority and is subservient to the president. He is elected for a multiyear term and is most effective if he is adept at negotiation and persuasion and refrains from trying to exert his power through coercion. Although mostly isolated in the bush and jungle of the peninsula, the Yukateko are integrated into the national political system, albeit at the bottom of the hierachy of power.

Social Control. Yukateko communities are noted for hospitality and reserved behavior, with theft and other crimes being almost unknown, except in the larger cities. The only type of village disruption might be an occasional display of drunkenness, which is either handled informally or by the police chief, who heads the community's guardia (unarmed police force). The guardia has a rotating membership, through which men fulfill their communal obligations and qualify for use of ejido land. Language also acts as a social-control mechanism: in the majority of bush communities, pressure is great for mestizos and Hispanics to speak Maya in public, strengthening Maya ethnic identity and countering external social domination.

Conflict. For some Maya and Hispanics, bitter memories linger of the killing that occurred during the Caste War. In general, however, violence across ethnic lines is very rare. Most Maya feel helpless in the face of Hispanic domination.


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