Nootka - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Nootka political organization was integrally tied to economics, kinship, and descent. In Nootka society, each person had an inherited social rank, and all Nootka were rank-ordered in relation to each other. Most generally, communities were divided into nobles and Commoners. In the noble families, rank was inherited by the rule of primogeniture, or primacy of the first-born. The first-born son of a high-ranking chief not only succeeded his father in their community's sociopolitical organization but also inherited his most important and prestigious rights and privileges. Social rank was visible in numerous ways. For example, each house-group had four ranked chiefs, who were brothers or close kinsmen. Living places within a longhouse were determined by social rank. The highest ranking house-group chief owned and lived in his house's right rear corner; other corners were not owned, even though chiefs of lesser rank lived in them. Commoners lived between the corners. Nootka chiefs kept slaves (war captives) and every village had slaves who performed its heavy labor. Slaves had no rights or privileges.

Political Organization. The Nootka did not constitute a single political entity; however, their cultural patterns as well as the intensity of social interactions between local groups made them a definable social unit. Anthropologists customarily divide Nootka society into a hierarchy of sociopolitical units. The basic political unit was the local group. A tribe was a larger social unit composed of local groups that shared a common winter settlement; the chiefs of a tribe were rank-ordered. Tribes that united to share a common summer Village site at which to hunt and fish formed a confederacy, which took the name of one of its tribes. Sometimes confederacies were formed as the result of tribes coming together for warfare. Confederacies correspond to the Nootka's major geographic divisions.

Social Control. There was no formal Nootka legal system. Everyday social control was a face-to-face matter, as kinsmen and friends within a local group or house-group informally settled minor interpersonal problems. On the other hand, a local group protected its members from outside aggressors. The assurance of local-group retaliation acted as an informal deterrent to external attack. When that failed, social control between local groups was based on blood revenge and property settlements (the aggressor's relatives paid valuables and wealth to the victim's family). In a case of death by black magic (witchcraft), the witch was killed, and the death went unavenged.

Conflict. Wars and feuds were distinguished by their scale and motivation. Feuds were small-scale events that occurred to settle minor problems or to punish an offense. Wars, on the other hand, secured slaves or booty, or both. Slings, bows and arrows, and stone clubs were the warriors' favorite weapons. Only chiefs wore body armor.

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