Zoque - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. During the pre-Hispanic period, the social hierarchy was based on wealth and traditional authority. The former was displayed by the chiefs, whereas the latter was divided among chiefs, priests, elders, and shamans, who performed ceremonial rites and preserved the ancient knowledge. The father of each household was recognized as the head of the extended family. After the Spanish Conquest, new social institutions originating in the Iberian Peninsula were incorporated: the Catholic church, cofradías, and compadrazgo (ritual kinship). The cofradías served to create social prestige through the assumption of cargos within them. Elders continued their active participation in ceremonies; this is still evident in traditional ritual practices.

Political Organization. When the Spaniards arrived in Zoque territory, they found it organized into chiefdoms with subject peoples. There was no centralization of power, and each chiefdom exerted control over a specific area, based on kinship. The status of the chief was extended to his kin; thus social differentiation was created in the chiefdom.

After the Conquest, a system of religious cargos maintained the principles of age and prestige within a civil-religious hierarchy. After the second decade of the twentieth century, the establishment of the local village governments removed political power from the civil-religious hierarchies and recast Zoque political systems within institutions created by the national and state governments.

Social Control. Territorial dispersion of the Zoque makes it difficult to identify control mechanisms that represent the whole group; however, in the municipio of Tapalapa, Chiapas, a form of social control on the natural and supernatural level has been noted. People believe that a mythical tribunal of I'ps Tojk ("twelve houses" or "twelve places") punishes people who transgress social and moral norms. This tribunal is addressed in dreams by people who possess kojama (animal-companion spirits). Illness is an indication that the kojama of the victim may be held prisoner by the tribunal. Only treatment by a jama yoye (curer) can lead the victim to health. The jama yoye persuades the victim to abandon his incorrect social behavior and/or involves himself in symbolic combat between various implicated animal-companion spirits. Another mechanism of social control is ritual reciprocity, which communicates trust and good intentions, thus reducing tension between families within the community.

Conflict. Conflicts are generally generated out of scarcity, such as the need for land. Conflicts between neighbors over land can become serious. Confrontations involve nuclear or extended families and can be started by an illness interpreted as sorcery. Physical violence is generally avoided through the mediation of a curer, who super naturally protects the victim. The disappearance of curers and the decline of rituals that functioned as mechanisms to calm social tensions between families and neighbors has resulted in the use of legal mechanisms to resolve land disputes and other problems such as adultery, marital conflict, insult, physical aggression, theft, and murder.

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