Karok - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. No formal distinctions of social class were recognized by the Karok, although prestige was associated with wealth.

Political Organization. There was no formal political organization, either for villages or the Karok as a whole; the group can be delineated only by its shared language and habitat. In keeping with the general prestige associated with wealth, however, individuals and families who were considered rich tended to be regarded as community leaders. Tribal names were used to identify neighboring peoples such as the Yurok and Hupa, but the Karok had no name for themselves other than "'Araar" (people). After White contact, the U.S. government failed for over a century to recognize the Karok as a tribe. It was not until the 1970s that federal recognition was obtained; a tribal headquarters now exists at Happy Camp.

Social Control. Behavior was regulated by the set of values that tribal members shared, and no crimes against the tribe or community were recognized. Instead, undesirable behavior was interpreted as either (1) transgression against the supernatural, by the breaking of taboos, which would bring retribution to the wrongdoer in the form of bad luck, or (2) transgression against private persons or property, which would have to be paid for through indemnities to the offended individuals or families. If one refused to pay, he would likely be killed by the offended party; and this killing could in turn result either in immediate compensation or in further feuding between the families concerned until a final settlement was negotiated.

Conflict. What is sometimes called "war" among the Karok refers to the feuding described above, expanded to involve fellow villagers of the aggrieved parties. Such feuds could be settled with the help of a paid go-between. When a financial settlement was reached, opposing parties would face each other and do an armed "war dance" while singing songs to insult the other side. If this did not provoke a renewal of violence, then the settlement would conclude with a breaking of weapons. Following White contact, the Karok suffered greatly in clashes with miners, settlers, and soldiers, but there was no organized warfare. At the present time, White policy toward the Karok is mainly one of "benign neglect." Differences of opinion among the modern Karok themselves are associated with the degree of adherence to traditional values, but there are no sharp dividing lines.

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