Osage - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Status was conferred on the basis of birth order, age, subclan membership, and personal conduct. Birth order was of major significance, and the first, second, and third sons and daughters had names indicative of their position. A woman's status was in large part dependent upon her husband's status. Since mixed-bloods were usually the children of non-Osage fathers, they did not have a clan affiliation and thus no position within society. By the late nineteenth century, mixed-bloods formed a separate and distinct group whose life-style and values were basically European-American. Today, status is based in part on the prestige of the family and in part on relative wealth.

Political Organization. The five bands were autonomous units. Although there was no overriding political structure, band leaders frequently conferred and acted in concert. Each band had two ga-hi-ge, or chiefs, a tzi-zhu, or sky chief, and a hon-ga, or earth chief. The chiefs were chosen from among the male members of particular lineages and clans. To assist them, the chiefs had ten a-ki-da, or "soldiers," who were also chosen from particular clans. The chiefs and soldiers dealt only with day-to-day problems and led the village on hunts. The true power was in the collective decisions of the non-honzhin-ga, or "little old men," individuals who had been initiated into the clan rituals and had the right to perform such rituals. Each of the clans had its own set of "little old men." They were responsible for and controlled all religious rituals and all external relations including warfare. During the early nineteenth century, the Osage began to fragment politically. Some families continued to follow traditional hereditary chiefs, but others turned to "big man" war leaders. The "little old men" lost influence to younger aggressive warriors. In 1881 the Osage Nation was organized with a constitution based on that of the Cherokee. In 1900 the Indian Service unilaterally abolished the national government. The 1906 Allotment Act provided for a new tribal council to be elected by adult headlight owners who vote the number of headlights they own.

Social Control. Gossip and ostracism were and are two informal forms of control. Little is known about witchcraft other than that the last witch died in the early part of the twentieth century. The chiefs and their soldiers were primarily responsible for the maintenance of peace within the Village. Physical force and punishment could be used, and on occasion individuals were executed for murder. The 1881 constitution established courts and police. The 1906 Allotment Act made no provision for a tribal judicial system.

Conflict. There were and are sharp political divisions and bitter disputes among the Osage. These disputes, however, have rarely threatened the overall cohesiveness of the tribe. The major division today is between the descendants of the turn-of-the-century mixed-blood and full-blood families. Since today there are few actual full-bloods, the division is based more on social and cultural differences than on biology.


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