Social Organization. In early times, class distinctions were absent. Status came with heading a large family. The various language dialect groups comprised politically autonomous local or regional bands. There was some intermixing of these bands at ceremonies, and by the mid-nineteenth century there was a pan-Pima-Papago native-centered mythology with public commemorations at two known pan-Pima-Papago ceremonial centers. The ceremony was called the wi:gita (see below).
Political Organization. Aboriginally the Pima-Papago had no centralized regulation of production, exchange, war, or diplomacy. Each village was autonomous but joined with other villages of the regional band for war and ceremonies. Villages had headmen (Keepers of the Smoke) who were at the center of local public life. The headmen ideally were generous, soft-spoken, and humorous. Synonyms for the headman were the "Wise Speaker," "Fire Maker," "Keeper of the Basket," "One Above," "One Ahead," and "One Made Big." Other offices were War Leader, Hunt Leader, Irrigation Ditch Leader, and Song Leader. Shamans, as seers, were none of the above. The above offices pertained to talking and to gaining consensus through talk, not to seeing in the dark (the shaman's specialty). Shamans were thought to have personalities different from politicians. Village council matters Concerned agriculture, hunting, war, and dates for ceremonies and games to be held with other villages. The headmen did not pronounce a decision unless there was consensus.
All the reservations adopted U.S.-modeled constitutions in the 1930s (some were grouped under single tribal jurisdictions, however). These constitutions connected villages to districts and then to tribes by establishing elected offices or councilmen (now men and women) at district and tribal levels. The constitutions produced office-rich, high-participation governments, since the tribes had populations equivalent to small U.S. towns. Most matters for council consideration arise from outside (White) initiative; the Councils primarily carry White (Bureau of Indian Affairs, private corporate) proposals to grass-root respondents.
Social Control and Conflict. Traditional society operated with a minimum of overt control. Conflicts were glossed over in an attempt to maintain order. Peaceableness was a virtue. For minor offenses, the fear of gossip was a control, as was the fear of witchcraft or sorcery. (One never knew who might be a shaman, at least a bad shaman.) Major offenders might be banished by council decision and bad shamans might be executed, allegedly after village council discussion. Mystical punishments for the violation of taboos were also believed in, and many native sicknesses (see below) were said to result from such violations. Conflict with non-Pima-Papagos was minimized. Warfare was rationalized as defensive. Pima-Papagos fought as mercenaries for Spain, Mexico, and the United States in defense of the latter's frontiers. They sold captive Apaches and Yavapais to Spaniards and Mexicans, and they continued to hold their warrior initiation ceremonies, as "mock battles," long after the Pax Americana.