Kiowa - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Status distinctions reflected wealth, warfare honors, and political power. Highest prestige went to chiefs of the largest bands and to religious leaders. The fact that many historic Kiowa chiefs bore names that were eponymous of the bear (such as White Bear, Many Bears, Sitting Bear) and were passed from generation to generation suggests a continuity in leadership that may, at an earlier time, have been vested in a lineage or other descent group. Women had fewer opportunities to achieve individual prestige; however, folklore and personal histories indicate that a high value was placed on strong, resourceful Kiowa women, whose importance in community life should not be underestimated. Excaptives had a marginal position but were able to achieve distinction in warfare and other pursuits.

Political Organization. Through most of the year, bands were largely independent; successful chiefs, who attracted and retained the largest following, had the greatest renown and influence. During the summer season, the Taime priest was in charge of the Sun Dance camp; order was maintained in the camp and during the hunt by military societies, which cut across the band membership but included all adult men of the tribe. For at least four generations, the Kiowa were politically unified under a head chief; the last to hold this rank was Dohasan (Little Bluff), who died in 1866. After his death, at the beginning of the reservation period, leadership became factionalized between chiefs such as Satanta (White Bear) and Lone Wolf, who resisted surrender, and others, including Kickingbird, who favored compromise. After a brief period of reservation life, the Kiowa were given individual allotments of land in 1892, and the area was opened to White settlement. A Kiowa Tribal Council, formed in 1969, represents Kiowa concerns in health, education, and economic development.

Social Control. The secular power of chiefs and military societies was complemented by the spiritual authority of the Taime and medicine bundle priests. Within the tribe, a serious affront might provoke revenge, but intervention by a priest prevented the escalation of quarrels. Offering the pipe and appealing to the fetishes served to invoke supernatural sanctions; violation of vows or a sanction imposed under these circumstances was potentially fatal, resulting in taido, an irreversible spiritual decline.

Conflict. In historic times, the importance attached to horses promoted intertribal raiding; hostilities often escalated through the avenging of death or injury. The Kiowa usually sought an intermediary to make peace with an enemy group. Chronic enmity toward the Apache and more recent hatred of Texans may have resulted from their expansion into Kiowa territory. Like other Plains tribes, the Kiowa suffered from the inroads of eastern Indians, such as the Cherokee and Shawnee, as these were moved westward in the nineteenth century.

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